Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard has declared a general election for August 21.

Ms. Gillard visited the Governor-General’s residence in Canberra on Saturday morning to seek permission to dissolve parliament.

The election comes just three weeks after Ms. Gillard toppled Kevin Rudd as the leader of the ruling Australian Labor Party (ALP), following a decision by Mr. Rudd to step down rather than face a party room ballot and a potentially embarrassing defeat, in the wake of a decline in his approval ratings.

Ms. Gillard has resisted calls to divulge the details of the meeting’s contents, instead focusing on the upcoming election as giving Australians a “very clear choice” to move Australia forward under the current administration, or risk going backwards under the conservative Liberal-National coalition.

The opposition Liberal-National Party, led by Tony Abbott, require 17 seats, or a 2.3 per cent swing to win back government. Mr. Abbott was a former cabinet member in the previous coalition government led by John Howard, where he served as Minister for Workplace Relations and Health.

Issues such as climate change, health, the economy, and immigration are likely to feature prominently throughout the campaign, along with a 30 per cent controversial tax on profits, the Minerals Resources Retail Tax (MRRT). Originally marked at 40 per cent under Mr. Rudd, Ms. Gillard immediately sought to lower the tax to 30 per cent but according to The Age, mining companies are quoted as saying the figure is closer to 20 per cent.

Mr. Abbott has said that he will abolish the tax if he wins office.

Mining companies in resource-rich states such as Queensland and Western Australia have provided the greatest resistance to the MRRT. Queensland is home to a number of marginal electoral seats where a swing of less than 5 per cent is required, and could be crucial in determining which party wins office.

Speaking in Brisbane, Mr. Abbott told a Liberal-National Party conference in Brisbane that Labor could not be trusted with another term in office, saying that only a coalition government could successfully manage the economy and maintain a strong border protection policy to permanently stop boats with asylum seekers arriving illegally on Australian territory.

Ms. Gillard’s recent attempt to establish a regional visa processing center in East Timor has been criticized for announcing the initiative without consulting Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.

Ms. Gillard’s stance is regarded as an attempt to neutralize any advantage the opposition may attempt to gain during the campaign period. However, the move has been criticized as being too similar to the Liberal-National Party policy’s “Pacific Solution” of the previous decade, where asylum seekers were detained in the Pacific island of Nauru while their claims were processed.

In a statement, the pro-refugee lobby group Asylum Seeker Resource Center (ASRC) branded the move an attempt “outsource our responsibility to asylum seekers who seek protection in Australia.”

The most recent poll conducted by Roy Morgan Research on 10-11 July 2010 shows on primary votes, the opposition leads the ALP by a margin of 41 per cent to 40.5 per cent based on primary votes, with the Greens on 12 per cent. However, the ALP would win an election on a two-party preferred basis 54.5 per cent to the Liberal-National’s 45.5 per cent, with assistance from the Greens and minor parties’ preferences.

The poll was conducted shortly before the East Timorese government rejected Ms. Gillard’s proposed refugee processing center.

Ms. Gillard, who is Australia’s first female Prime Minister, was born in south Wales and moved to Australia with her family at the age of four. She became an elected member of parliament in 1998, having also practiced in industrial law. She served as Mr. Rudd’s deputy and was Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.