Australia poll date slips out in comedy banter

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SYDNEY, Sep 30 (Reuters) Australia's general election is likely to be held on Nov 24, or at least that is how it looks after Treasurer Peter Costello seemed to reveal the nation's biggest political secret while bantering on a television show.

Appearing on a special programme yesterday ahead of the Australian Rules football grand final, one of the country's biggest sporting events, Costello was asked how he was feeling.

His reply? ''Toey'', Australian slang for nervous.

Was that because of the game or the election? Costello, set to become prime minister some time in the next parliament if his party wins another term, said they both culminate at this time of year, ''the last day of September and the last day of November, isn't it?'' With elections held on Saturdays in Australia, that would make polling day Nov 24.

Speculation over the election date has grown in recent weeks, with both major parties already gearing up for the campaign.

Prime Minister John Howard's conservative government has been in power for 11 years, but opinion polls throughout 2007 have consistently shown it trailing well behind the centre-left Labor Party, led by Kevin Rudd.

Labor needs to win 16 more seats in the 150-seat parliament to take power. Polls point to a solid 10-point swing of support towards Labor, which could deliver up to 40 seats if carried through to election day.

Howard, 68, has won four consecutive elections and has said this one will be his last, promising to hand over to Costello sometime during the next three-year term if he wins.

Labor's poll support surged after December 2006, when the party chose Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat, as its leader.

Reuters MP VP0732

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