Sydney: Immigration and climate change are
set to be key issues thrashed out on Sunday by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and challenger Tony Abbott in the only
televised debate of the election campaign.
The debate will be the sole chance for centre-left Labor leader Gillard and the conservative Liberal Party`s Abbott to go head-to-head before the nation goes to the polls on August 21.
Gillard, who called the election just weeks after wresting power from Kevin Rudd in a Labor Party room coup, is
likely to focus on the government`s commitments to climate change and workers entitlements.
While Abbott, who today vowed to slash Australia`s migrant intake if elected prime minister, is set to place
immigration and population growth squarely on the agenda.
Asked whether he was nervous before the crucial debate, Abbott said: "Of course, who wouldn`t be?"
Gillard and Abbott are talented political performers who know each other well and are known for their humour and
debating skills, but analysts said few fireworks were expected from the pair today.
"Julia Gillard is trying to play safe in this campaign," veteran Canberra correspondent Michelle Grattan wrote in The Sun-Herald.
"A bolder leader might have seen advantage in a couple of
television debates with Tony Abbott, gambling that he would
look rough at the edges by comparison.
"But she`s stuck to the safe formula of one encounter, early on. If anything bad happens, it will be forgotten well
before August 21."
Abbott, a former Rhodes scholar and one-time trainee Catholic priest, goes into the debate as the underdog with Gillard, buoyed by a surging female vote, comfortably ahead in opinion polls.
But the monarchist Abbott, known as a straight-talker, has the most to win from a strong performance in the debate,
"Gillard speaks in slogans, as though she has switched off her considerable brain power to get through the campaign
fault-free," commentator Peter Van Onselen wrote in the Sunday Telegraph.
The National Press Club debate, which was rescheduled
after it clashed with the final of a popular cooking
programme, is due to start at 6:30 pm (local time) with both
leaders speaking briefly before taking questions from