Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has visited Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove to ask that both houses of Parliament be dissolved and a general election called for July 2. The move had long been expected.
Turnbull, who heads the center-right Liberal Party, visited the governor-general on Sunday to lock in a July 2 election date and trigger the unusually long campaign.
Under Australia's political system, the governor-general is the representative of the head of state, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.
Turnbull and Bill Shorten, leader of the center-left Labor Party, recently outlined their conflicting economic policies for how Australia should rein in mounting debt without slowing an already sluggish economy.
Labor on attack
Labor leader Bill Shorten accuses the government of favoring the wealthy and offering nothing for the poor.
Labor opposes most of the tax cuts and would spend the money saved on hospitals and schools. The government accuses Shorten of inciting divisive and outdated class warfare.
Neither politician has ever led his party into an election campaign before.
Turnbull successfully ousted his unpopular predecessor, Tony Abbott, in last September's leadership ballot of lawmakers in the Liberal Party, only two years after the coalition government was elected.
The change of leadership boosted the government's standing in opinion polls. But recent figures suggest the government is now running neck-and-neck with Labor.
Before he entered Parliament in 2007, Shorten, 48, was a senior official of the Australian Workers' Union, one of five syndicates targeted by a government-commissioned inquiry into corruption. Labor condemned the inquiry as politically motivated.
The Turnbull-led government has released its budget plans for the next fiscal year, which begins on the eve of the election, calling for stimulus measures including income tax cuts for middle- and high-income earners and a gradual reduction of the company tax rate over a decade from 30 to 25 percent.
jar/rc (AP, Reuters)