CANBERRA, Nov 21 (Reuters) Australian Labor opposition leader Kevin Rudd today appealed to voters to throw their support behind his election campaign by promising a new, younger leadership and a new Australia if he wins office on Saturday.
In his final major speech of the campaign for Saturday's election, Rudd said voters would have a choice between a stale government that was out of touch on modern issues, and Labor's push to invest in education, health and the environment.''Saturday will decide whether Australia gets stuck in the world's slow lane, letting other nations pass us by, or whether Australia decides to shift up a gear to realise our new potential as a nation,'' Rudd told the National Press Club in Canberra.
Rudd, 50, holds a strong poll lead over conservative Prime Minister John Howard, 68, giving his centre-left Labor party its best hope of victory after 11 and half years in opposition.
''After 11 years it's now time to turn the page on this government. It's time for a new chapter in our nation's history to begin,'' Rudd said.
A Reuters poll analysis on Wednesday found Rudd held a 10-point lead over Howard in the final days of the campaign, which would deliver Labor more than the 16 seats Rudd needs to claim power if carried through to election day.
The Reuters Poll Trend put Labor support at 55 per cent compared to 45 per cent for the conservatives on a two-party basis, where minority votes are distributed to the main parties to ultimately decide the election.
Rudd has led every opinion poll since he was elected to lead the Labor party in December 2006.
Howard has warned voters that a Labor government would be dominated by former trade unionists, push up interest rates and wreck the economy, which is in its 17th year of growth with a resources boom fuelled by demand from China.
Rudd's campaign has focused on plans to reform Australia's education and health systems, as well as a commitment to pull about 500 Australian frontline troops from Iraq and to sign the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
''Australia is a great country but we are not as great as we can be. We should be a nation leading the world on tackling climate change, not lagging behind,'' Rudd said today.
In the final days of the campaign, the younger Rudd is also targetting Howard's age and the prime minister's promise to retire about two years into the next term to hand power to his deputy, Treasurer Peter Costello.
''Mr Howard's government after 11 years in office has gone stale and no longer comprehends the challenges of the future,'' Rudd said.
''Mr Howard's government instead is almost entirely preoccupied with the handover to Mr Costello.'' Despite the poll lead, Rudd said he expected Saturday's election to be close.
''Whoever wins on Saturday will win by a nose. This is tough, ugly and nasty. It is tighter than many people in this room may think,'' he said, adding Labor had only won twice from opposition since World War II.