Australia's Labor set to win government -media

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SYDNEY, Nov 24 (Reuters) Australia's Labor party was set to win government in national elections today after 11 years in opposition, local media said, as Prime Minister John Howard struggled even to keep his own parliamentary seat.

Australian Broadcasting Corp television predicted on early counting that Labor, led by Kevin Rudd, would win at least 78 seats in the 150-seat parliament, giving it a clear majority.

''At this stage it is continuing to track towards a Labor government. The government is behind in everything,'' said ABC pollster Anthony Green. He predicted that 82 seats would go to Labor and just 66 to conservative parties.

Finance Minister Nick Minchin said the early swings were not enough to point to the election result.

''Clearly there isn't a significant swing yet to say that Labor will win this election,'' he said.

But Howard's communications minister, Helen Coonan, said: ''If this trend continues we have to accept the voters think that it's time for the prime minister to go''.

If Howard loses his own seat he would be the first sitting Australian prime minister since 1929 to be dumped by voters.

Howard, 68, has trailed in opinion polls all year. A staunch US ally committed to keeping Australian troops in Iraq, he offered voters 34 billion Australian dollar (US29 billion dollar) in tax cuts, but few new policies.

Rudd has pledged to withdraw combat troops from Iraq and sign the Kyoto Protocol, further isolating Washington on both.

The Mandarin-speaking former diplomat would also be expected to forge closer ties with China and other Asian nations.

Rudd, 50, has offered voters a generational change, saying Howard is too old and tired to lead Australia.

Howard has criticised Rudd's lack of experience, insisting a Labor government would be dominated by former trade unionists and would wreck an economy which has recorded 17 years of growth.

Howard once described himself as ''Lazarus with a triple bypass'' for his ability to be resurrected from political defeat. Even if he wins it will be his last hurrah, for he has promised to step down mid-term for his treasurer, Peter Costello.


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