Australia PM vows `Yes we will` as tight polls loom

Australian PM Gillard makes a Barack Obama-style "Yes we will" pledge.

Brisbane: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Monday made a Barack Obama-style "Yes we will" pledge to transform the country`s healthcare and workforce ahead of knife-edge weekend elections.

Welsh-born Gillard, the country`s first woman leader, talked up a planned broadband network and mocked opposition leader Tony Abbott`s new initiative against illegal immigrants at an austere Labor Party "launch" in Brisbane.

"Yes we will move forward with confidence and optimism," said the `humble` Gillard, at the climax of a low-key, 40-minute speech focusing on health and education.

"Yes we will keep our economy growing stronger day by day. Yes we will offer people the benefits and dignity of work. Yes we will transform our education system so every child gets the benefit of a great education."

The latest Newspoll gave the red-headed former lawyer a four-point lead ahead of Saturday`s election as she strives to overcome voter disquiet over her June party coup against elected leader Kevin Rudd.

Wearing a simple black suit, the unmarried Gillard, 48, stressed Labor`s economic record in avoiding a recession during the financial crisis as her party seeks to avoid becoming the first one-term government since World War II.

"We emerged from this downturn stronger than the rest of the world," she said. "That`s a fantastic opportunity but to seize this opportunity we`ve got to have strong management, we`ve got to have proper plans for the future and I have them."

The former education minister, whose parents emigrated in the 1960s and were sitting in the front row, praised Rudd`s "great achievements" before quickly moving on to the importance of schooling, jobs and the "power of technology".

She attacked the conservative Abbott`s economic plans and his new promise to personally advise naval commanders on whether to turn back boats carrying hundreds of Afghans and Sri Lankans seeking asylum to the country`s north.

"What Mr Abbott wants that commander to do is take their eyes off the safety of the crew... (and) go inside and give him a call. That`s Mr Abbott`s plans to stop the boats," she said, raising laughs in the modest auditorium.

"And then presumably from the safety of Kirribilli (the prime ministerial residence on Sydney Harbour) as he watches luxury yachts go by, Mr Abbott is going to provide some advice to that commander about how to stop the boats.”

"Friends, this is a nonsense and every Australian will see through it I`m sure."

Gillard said an AUD 43 billion (USD 38 billion) plan to wire 93 percent of homes with high-speed broadband would vastly improve lives, and vowed Internet medical consultations for Outback residents by next year.

She pledged good education for all and better training, as well as to ease cost of living pressures which have made Australians among the world`s hardest workers, eroding its famed quality of life.

"It can be tough... setting the alarm clock early, getting the kids out to school," Gillard said, returning to a well-worn campaign theme.

But the Prime Minister made scant mention of climate change or Australia`s downtrodden Aborigines, two major themes of Rudd`s 2007 election win.

Analysts have decried a lacklustre campaign by both Labor and the Coalition, focusing on small-scale pledges and policy minutiae, despite a fascinating backdrop highlighted by Rudd`s spectacular ousting just seven weeks ago.

The atheist, childless Gillard is pitted against Abbott, a colourful, pro-family religious conservative who has steered clear of the gaffes which have studded his career to mount a strong challenge.

A swing of just 2.3 percent would drive Labor from power less than three years after Rudd ended conservative John Howard`s 11-year reign.

Bureau Report

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