He said key among these was "the challenge of the rise of China and India", adding that his strategy to meet these challenges included greater investment in education and skills training as well as in language studies and broadband communications.

 

He said greater Asian language studies would "equip the next generation of Australians with the languages of the major economies of the future".

 

Tax pledges

 

Australia's general election has been called for November 24 and opinion polls have almost unanimously given Rudd a big lead over the incumbent prime minister.

 

Howard launched his own re-election campaign earlier this week, promising tax breaks for first time home-buyers and assistance with education costs.

 

His pitch was seen by observers as an appeal to win back support of young suburban families struggling with rapidly growing living costs.

 

Howard, who is Australia's second-longest serving prime minister, has been in office for 12 years and is seeking a fifth term.

 

A poll in The Australian newspaper earlier this week showed Howard's ruling coalition was trailing Rudd's Labor Party 45 per cent to 55 per cent.

 

Rudd, a former diplomat and a fluent Mandarin speaker, has made significant play of his international experience and says Australia must play a greater role in the Asia-Pacific region.

 

Labor has also promised parents assistance with educating their children, pledging to introduce an education tax rebate system.