SYDNEY – Australians voted in a national election on Saturday, with the Conservative Liberal-National Coalition seeking a fourth consecutive term and the Labor Party seeking to return to power after nine years of opposition.
Opinion polls have shown Labor to be ahead, but the gap has narrowed in the last weeks of the campaign.
A strong display of campaigning on climate action, integrity and gender equality by high-profile independent candidates could lead to a hanging parliament.
The House of Representatives has 151 seats, of which 76 require a majority to form a government. In the last parliament, the Conservative Alliance had 76 seats and Labor 68, with seven smaller parties and independent members. Elections are being held in all the seats.
There are 6 seats in the Senate; Twelve for each of the six states and two for each of the two regions. In the last parliament, the coalition won 36 seats and Labor 26, with 14 crossbenches.
There are 40 seats for election: six from each state and four from each region.
Factbox: Democracy in Australia
* Among the challenges facing the winner are inflation, which is at a two-decade high and accelerating, interest rates that have started rising for the first time in more than 11 years, while epidemic spending shows huge budget deficits in the years ahead. Fortunately, unemployment is at its lowest level in almost 50 years, and global prices of Australian products skyrocket.
* A group of climate-conscious independent candidates threatened some safe government seats, agitating for greater action after three years of fires, floods and epidemics. It is possible that they could remove some prominent government members and even maintain a balance of power.
* Major teams have a tough path. People say they want to work on climate, but are not always willing to pay for it. And in an election where the cost of living is a central issue, the price of retail electricity is a factor.
* Foreign policy has become an unlikely election issue since Prime Minister Scott Morrison tried to trump his national security credentials, claiming that Labor could not work, simply because Solomon Islands signed a security agreement with China.
* Morrison has promised a change in his style of governing, acknowledging that he was “a little bulldozed” after his personality became electioneering.
* Labor leader Anthony Albanese has proposed an alternative based on his working-class roots and pragmatic style. (Reporting by John Mayer; Editing by Lincoln Fist.)