The announcement that a general election will be held in Australia on 24th November has prompted evangelical groups in the country to begin campaigning against gay equality.

The Australian Christian Lobby has asked a series of questions of Labour party leader Kevin Rudd, including one on gay rights, which it plans to post online.

The pressure group is confident that it can influence the man viewed as almost certain to defeat incumbent John Howard and become Australia’s 26th Prime Minister.

Both the governing Liberal and opposition Labour parties appear to be keen to court the religious vote.

Mr Rudd has been comfortable discussing his belief in God, and he has ruled out recognising same-sex marriage or civil unions.

The ACL has been leading the fight against gay equality, and scored a coup earlier this year when it hosted a webcast with Mr Howard and Mr Rudd streamed live to more than 700 churches across the country.

During the session, which was also broadcast on Australia’s ABC Local Radio, Mr Rudd was asked about his views on gay marriage by a Christian leader.

“I have a pretty basic view on this, as reflected in the position adopted by our party, and that is, that marriage is between a man and a woman,” he replied.

Under a Federal Labour Government, gay couples might be allowed to “register” their relationships.

However, Labour will support changes to the law to remove inequities in the tax and benefits system that discriminate against same-sex couples.

An audit of federal laws and their impact on gay and lesbian couples and their children was undertaken by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) and presented to the federal parliament in June.

It found that same-sex couples and families get fewer leave entitlements, less workers’ compensation, fewer tax concessions, fewer veterans’ entitlements, fewer health care subsidies, less superannuation and pay more for residential aged care than opposite-sex couples in the same circumstances.

The Australian Christina Lobby is committed to fighting gay equality.

“We reject HREOC’s attempts to normalise same-sex relationships by extending the definition of de facto marriage and redefining parenthood.

“Such a move plays directly into the hands of activists whose long-term aim has been to redefine marriage and family,” the group said in a pre-election statement.

John Howard has been Prime Minister since 1996 and is seeking a fifth term in office.

The 68-year-old is a despised by many in Australia’s LGBT community.

In 2004 he passed federal legislation banning same-sex marriage and earlier this year said that HIV positive immigrants should not be allowed into the country.

He is widely expected to lose power to 50-year-old Mr Rudd and may even lose his own parliamentary seat.

“Australia is enjoying a remarkable level of national prosperity at the present time, but I believe very passionately that this country’s best years can lie ahead of us,” Mr Howard said yesterday.

“This country does not need new leadership, it does not need old leadership, it needs the right leadership.”

Mr Rudd looks certain to sweep Labour into power for the first time since the defeat of Paul Keating eleven years ago.

He has led the party since December 2006, and recent revelations that he visited a strip club in New York while on official business did much to endear him to Australians who previously viewed him as grey and boring.

“As I travel around Australia people have asked me, legitimately, why do you want to become the Prime Minister of this country,” Mr Rudd said yesterday.

“I am putting myself forward to become Australia’s next Prime Minister because I understand the challenges which our country faces in the future and I want to be a leader of the Government of this country as we tackle those challenges of the future head on.

“Australia cannot afford another three years of a Government which has already had eleven years.

“A Government which has lost touch with working families, a Government that’s gone stale and a Government without fresh ideas for our nation’s future.

“I refuse to stand idly by and allow this to happen. That’s why I put myself forward for new leadership for our nation Australia’s future.”