Howard calls election as Australian voters desert him Barbara McMahon in Sydney Monday October 15, 2007 The Guardian Australia's prime minister, John Howard, called a general election yesterday as polls showed him heading for a landslide defeat after nearly 11 years in office. Speaking in Canberra the 68-year-old insisted he was still the best man to lead the country despite many voters switching to his Labor opponent, Kevin Rudd. Setting November 24 as the election date, Mr Howard argued that his strength and experience trumped those of his youthful challenger. "Love me or loathe me, the Australian people know where I stand on all the important issues of their future," he said. He played down his age and the fact that he is seeking a fifth term, saying the country "does not need new leadership. It does not need old leadership. It needs the right leadership". Mr Rudd, a 50-year-old former diplomat who speaks Mandarin, has been on a roll. He took over as Labor leader in December and is seen as a serious, policy-driven politician and the first real challenger to Mr Howard's authority. Speaking in his home town of Brisbane after the election date was announced, he told cheering supporters that he was not taking victory for granted. "To win this election we have to make history," he said. "We have only won twice from opposition since the second world war. I believe this is going to be the fight of our lives," he said. But he added: "Our country has a future too full of promise to allow a government that's been in office for 11 years, a government that's lost touch, and a government that's gone stale, just to continue on." With voters concerned about interest rates and house prices, the economy will be a key issue during the campaign. Workplace reforms introduced by the Howard government, which limit the influence of trade unions and are seen to favour employers, will also be on the agenda. The election will also decide the future of Australia's 1,500 troops in and around Iraq. Mr Howard has said that the military commitment was in the national interest and that a premature exit would be perceived as a defeat. Mr Rudd has promised to withdraw from Iraq. With Australia in the grip of drought, climate change will be an issue. Mr Rudd has said he would ratify the Kyoto protocol, which Mr Howard refused to do. Analysts are predicting a bitterly fought campaign. Mr Rudd, who is regarded as clever but bland, has never fought an election as party leader before and is likely to find Mr Howard a fearsome opponent. The most recent poll indicated Labour could win more than 20 seats from the coalition government - four more than it needs to take power. However, Mr Howard snapped yesterday that he had "no intention of spending even a nanosecond" commenting on polls. He added: "I am facing my day of accountability as is the leader of the opposition. That is the nature of the democratic process."