Australia general election: polls show voters could topple coalition government

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is urging voters to re-elect his centre-right Liberal national coalition government after a three-year term marred by the pandemic, climate disasters and allegations of dishonesty.

Morrison’s popularity has waned since he defied the polls to win a “miracle” victory over Labor in 2019 and that election is being seen as a referendum on his self-proclaimed “bulldozer” style of leadership.

Morrison’s main rival is Anthony Albanese, a Labor Party veteran who inherited the party leadership after his shocked predecessor resigned following the 2019 election defeat.

This time, Labor has scaled back its policy bids to narrow the gap between it and the coalition, despite both facing an unprecedented challenge from “blue-green” independents campaigning for more climate action and political integrity.

Endorsed by the multimillionaire founder of Climate 200, the color teal mixes their “blue” liberal views with “green” beliefs.

The big parties need at least 76 seats to govern directly – if fewer, they have to negotiate with smaller parties and independents to garner enough support to form a minority government.

Voting is mandatory and more than 17 million Australians are expected to have cast their ballots before polling stations close at 6pm AET (4am ET) on Saturday.

If there’s a clear winner, the outcome could be known within hours – but a close race can take days or even weeks to resolve.

The Big Issues

Across the country, smoke billows from grills at polling stations as volunteers cook “democracy sausages” wrapped in a slice of bread with onions and gravy – a decades-old Australian electoral tradition.

Volunteers in party colors hover nearby, waiting to hand How to Vote cards to anyone they suspect might be undecided.

After weeks of topping the polls, the chances of a Labor victory diminished in the final days before the vote, although public polls are being approached with caution after the surprise of 2019. Then even bookmakers were surprised when SportsBet reportedly lost more than $5 million after paying out a Labor win two days earlier.

The Australian election is typically a duel between the Liberal-National coalition and the Labor Party – and while their policies appear similar, there are some key differences.

Opposition Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese poses with students at Cobra Dominican College in Adelaide May 20.
Most globally significant is their attitude to the climate crisis.

The Morrison government has been branded a “climate denier” by the United Nations Secretary-General after it outlined a plan to reach net-zero by 2050 by creating massive new gas projects. The government says it supports a transition from coal to renewable energy but has no plans to halt new coal projects.


Labor says it will cut emissions by 43% by 2030 – more than the coalition target of 26-28% but less than climate scientists say is needed to keep global temperature rise within 1.5 degrees Celsius as agreed in the Paris Agreement. Climate-focused independents want emissions cuts closer to 60% by 2030 and disrupt cozy relations between government and the mining industry.

Not much separates the main parties on foreign policy, although Labor says it will rebuild ties it accuses the coalition of damaging during its tenure. That includes the French, whom Morrison angered by canceling a $90 billion submarine deal in favor of the AUKUS security pact with the United States and the United Kingdom. Both the Coalition and Labor have vowed to crack down on China, which signed a security deal with the Solomon Islands during the election campaign, leading to claims Canberra dropped the ball in the Pacific.

Other issues dominating the election are housing affordability, inflation and the cost of living, which are not unique to Australia. Morrison says the Coalition can only be counted on to manage a pandemic-battered economy amid predictions that rising interest rates could inflict more financial pain on strained homeowners. Meanwhile, Labor says it is the only party that will stand up for workers whose wages have stagnated even as inflation hits a 20-year high.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomes children from Wanneroo Rugby Union Club in Perth May 20.

Why Morrison could walk

Morrison stumbled just months after taking office when he made the politically disastrous decision to vacation in Hawaii amid bushfires sweeping the country. He cut his vacation short after the deaths of two volunteer firefighters, but justified his absence to a radio interviewer with a phrase that has become short for buck-passing: “I don’t have a hose, mate.”
Months later, when the first case of Covid was found in Australia, Morrison acted quickly. He closed the country’s borders for two years but has been criticized for not quickly rolling out vaccinations, which critics say has sparked local outbreaks and forced major cities into lockdowns for months. To date, just over 8,000 people have died from Covid and the environment in Australia 50,000 new cases are reported every day.
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The Prime Minister was also attacked for his lack of empathy when dealing with a Liberal staffer who claimed she had been raped in Parliament, prompting a mass rally of Australian women in 2021 demanding the government do better. During the pandemic, women’s groups have criticized the government’s willingness to rebuild male-dominated “hard hat” industries while neglecting sectors that mostly employ women – hospitality, arts – which have suffered from prolonged closures.

Insults were hurled throughout the campaign, with Morrison calling the Albanese a “loose entity” after the Labor leader said he would “absolutely” support a pay rise to keep up with inflation. Morrison turned the mirror back on himself when he admitted during a press conference that he could be a bit of a “bulldozer” – and then vowed he would change. The election result can show whether the voters believe him.

The big unknown in this election is whether voters will abandon the big parties in favor of smaller parties or independents. Most of the blue-green independents are highly educated women who have turned to politics and are frustrated by Canberra’s “boy’s club” of politics.
Campaign posters for independent candidate Monique Ryan at Kooyong's Melbourne headquarters.

Hanabeth Luke was nominated as an independent to the Page electorate in northern New South Wales after hearing Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce say the government cannot cut greenhouse gas emissions because it would harm farmers.

“I was angry,” said Luke, a scientist who teaches climate resilience at Southern Cross University. At the time, she corrected students’ homework about their lived experience of climate change. “Students made me cry. We talk about crops dying in the fields and then fires burning the crops and then a flood washing the fields away,” she said.

“The anger I felt then made me say, ‘Right here is an election. We cannot allow this government to let our children’s futures burn for three more years.’”

Opinions on the independents are mixed, but Zareh Ghazarian, a politics lecturer at Monash University, says some could do “real harm” to the Liberal Party.

One of the most influential battles takes place in the Victorian town of Kooyong, where Monique Ryan, a pediatrician and political newcomer, seeks to oust Liberal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, believed to be the future leader of the Liberal Party.

“If (independents) won their seats, it would not only complicate the Liberal Party’s task of maintaining government, but it would also deprive them of potential leadership options in the future,” Ghazarian said. “So it’s a big issue for the coalition.”

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