Australia’s Howard Promises Big Budget Surplus

SYDNEY ~ Australian Prime Minister John Howard promised on Tuesday that his government’s budget due to be unveiled next week would be responsible and boast a large surplus.

The pledge by the conservative leader of 11 years came as he is locked in a hand-to-hand battle with opposition leader Kevin Rudd, who is leading Howard in the polls ahead of a general election expected late this year.

Howard, during whose tenure in office Australia’s economy has boomed, said it was the duty of any administration to maintain a strong economy and promised the national budget due out on Tuesday would reflect the success of his government.

“I can guarantee that this will be an economically responsible budget,” Howard told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“I can guarantee it will have a strong surplus and I can guarantee that it will reinforce the proposition that interest rates will always be lower under the coalition than under Labor (the main opposition party),” he said.

But Howard, who has been taking daily potshots at Labor’s economic management and accusing it of planning to squander money if it seizes power, vowed his administration was not drawing up a budget geared to win votes.

“We have been developing some industry policy and you will hear more about that later. I can assure you … we are not going to abandon responsible economic management,” the fiscally conservative leader said.

Surveys indicate that Labor leader Rudd currently leads Howard as preferred prime minister by seven percent but the gap between the men has narrowed sharply from 12 percent a few weeks ago.

The main focus of the battle has shifted to the economy and big business.

On Tuesday, Howard unveiled a AUS$1.4-billion (US$1.16-billion) program to boost Australian industry and promote exports outside the booming mining industry, including the struggling manufacturing sector.

The program includes $254 million on a global opportunities scheme that will put Australian employees into international companies while more than $350 million will be spent over 10 years to support business in services and manufacturing.

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