SYDNEY – Voting in Australia’s general election ended on Saturday with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Conservative Alliance and opposition Labor losing ground to both smaller parties and climate-centric independents.
Amid growing voter dissatisfaction with policy, candidate selection and integrity, the two main parties’ fights have raised the possibility of a hanging parliament and a period of uncertainty when a record number of postal votes have been counted.
The center-left Labor gave a decent lead in opinion polls after nine years of opposition, although recent polls show that the Liberal-National government has narrowed the gap in the final spread of the six-week campaign.
A Newspole poll of Australian newspapers on election day showed that the Labor lead over the ruling coalition fell to 53-47 points on a two-party basis, with the votes of unsuccessful candidates being redistributed between the top two contestants.
Morrison and opposition leader Anthony Albanese voted for them in Sydney after a whistle-stop tour across marginal seats in the last two days of a campaign influenced by rising living costs, climate change and integrity.
“Today, Australians are making a big choice about their future,” Morrison told reporters outside a polling station. “Australia needs someone who knows how to manage money, how to deal with national security interests, how to move forward and how to secure that strong economy.”
Albanese said Australians want a change of government, for which there is nothing to be proud of.
“It simply came to our notice then. We are here to hunt, “said Albanese.
“In the fourth quarter, I want to kick my back with the wind, and I believe we have the wind behind us,” he said of Australian Rules Football, one of the most popular sports in the country.
As labor focused on rising inflation and wage growth, Morrison turned the country’s lowest unemployment in nearly half a century into the focus of the last hour of his campaign.
The influence of the independent
While the economy is a key issue, several “Till Independents” are campaigning for action on climate change in the wake of the worst floods and fires to hit Australia, challenging many prosperous liberal-seats.
Three volunteers working for Till Independent Monik Ryan, who is fighting Treasurer Josh Friedenberg for a long time in Melbourne’s long-running Liberal seat in Kowang, said they joined Ryan’s campaign because they were concerned about the climate for their children or grandchildren.
“For me, this election actually looks promising,” Charlotte Forwood, a working mother of three adult children, told Reuters.
Early returns suggest that Greens also made ground, especially in some urban centers, while billionaire Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party and Pauline Hanson’s right-wing One Nation also appear to have won votes at the expense of both major parties.
In the outgoing parliament, the Liberal-National Coalition won 76 of the 151 lower house seats, with Labor holding 68 seats, including seven smaller parties and independent members.
Voting was compulsory and more than half of the ballots were cast by Friday evening, with a record 8 million initial personal and postal votes, the Australian Election Commission said.
The commission flagged that a clear winner could not emerge immediately if there was a close contest due to the time required to count nearly 3 million postal votes.
(Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney and Sonali Paul in Melbourne; Written by Lincoln Fest; Editing by Richard Pulin and William Mallard)