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
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.
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.
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.
Why Morrison could walk
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.
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.”