* Gold stocks benefit from surge in bullion prices
* Ex-PM calls for inquiry into Murdoch media dominance
* White House seeks stripped-down COVID-19 relief bill
Oct 12 (Reuters) - Australian shares struggled for direction on Monday as investors stayed away from making big bets ahead of corporate earnings and production results while awaiting further developments on U.S. stimulus talks.
The S&P/ASX 200 index slipped 0.03% to 6,100.2 by 23:45 GMT, after posting its best week in six months last week.
A slew of Australian companies, including global miners BHP Group and Rio Tinto, are scheduled to report their quarterly production figures later this week, while the ‘big four’ banks will provide the first peek into how lenders fared in the July-September quarter later this month.
The Australian parliament on Friday approved A$17.8 billion ($12.87 billion) in personal tax cuts, quickly pushing through measures announced earlier in the week as part of the federal budget to support the coronavirus-ravaged economy.
On Sunday, the White House called on Congress to pass a stripped-down coronavirus relief bill, promising further negotiations on a comprehensive bill in the future.
Among sectors, gold stocks surged more than 2% as bullion prices benefited from bets for fresh U.S. stimulus.
Newcrest Mining, the country’s top listed gold producer, rose 2.1%, while smaller peer Northern Star Resources jumped 3.3%.
Energy stocks declined, dragged by lower oil prices after an oil worker strike in Norway ended.
Australia-listed shares of News Corp were among the biggest losers on the benchmark index, after former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called for a government inquiry into the tight ownership of Australian media by the company.
Bravura Solutions was the top gainer on the benchmark as the insurance-related software provider acquired a UK-based software company for A$41.5 million.
Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.3% to 12,318.7, helped by gains in utility and healthcare stocks. ($1 = 1.3833 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Soumyajit Saha in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)