Australia's Rudd bids for green votes

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CANBERRA, Oct 30 (Reuters) Australia's centre-left Labor Party committed to increase renewable energy generation if it wins power at upcoming elections, as a new poll found conservative Prime Minister John Howard clawing back support.

In a bid to woo the green vote, Labor leader Kevin Rudd promised his government would guarantee 20 per cent of the nation's electricity came from renewable energy by 2020, up from about 5 per cent at present.

''Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the generation of electricity is one of the central challenges in tackling climate change,'' Rudd said.

Rudd, 50, has given Labor its best hope of winning its first election for 14 years, promising generational change, and committing to ratifying the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

His renewable energy target would lead to about 45,000 gigawatt hours of renewable energy a year, compared to the government's target of 30,000 gigawatt hours by 2020.

Howard has steadfastly refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which sets targets to cut carbon pollution among developed countries, saying the move would cost jobs without the involvement of major developing nations China and India.

Nearing the mid-point of the election campaign, the Newspoll in the Australian newspaper showed Labor's 16-point lead had halved to 8 points, although Rudd still had an election-winning lead with 56 per cent to Howard's 44 per cent.

The result is Howard's best poll result since Rudd took over as Labor leader in December 2006, giving the conservative government a morale boost after struggling for almost a year to stop the surge in support for Rudd.

It predicted that at the Nov. 24 election, Labor would win 87 seats in the 150-seat lower house, while the conservatives would be swept from office with just 61 seats, according to leading election analyst Antony Green.

''I think there's that volatility there, as reflected in this poll, but, look, it just confirms that we are the underdogs,'' Finance Minister Nick Minchin said of the coalition government's chances.

Howard, who has lagged behind Rudd in surveys for most of the year, has been hammering home the conservative's main advantage over Labor on economic management, stressing 17 years of economic expansion and unemployment at 33-year lows.

But Howard, leader for 11 years and seeking a fifth term, also faced heavy criticism over his 2004 election promise to keep interest rates at 30-year lows. They have since lifted five times and economists expect them to rise again on Nov 6.

Howard, 68, is fighting to overturn a mood among voters for change despite delivering successive budgets in surplus and slashing taxes by 110 billion dollars (101 billion dollars).

But his promise of continued prosperity and more jobs has been blunted by successive interest rate rises to 6.5 per cent, hurting conservative support in outer city suburbs, where home affordability and interest rates are major issues.

REUTERS PD RAI1335

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