SYDNEY – As Australians cast their ballots in a national election on Saturday, opinion polls narrowed the opposition Labor Party ahead of the ruling Conservative coalition, although a strong showing by climate-centric independents could mean a hung parliament.
The center-left Labor took a decent lead in the campaign after nine years of opposition, but a recent vote showed Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal-National government narrowing the gap on the final extension of a tough, six-week campaign.
A Newspole poll by The Australian Newspaper on election day shows that the Labor lead has fallen to 53-47 on the basis of two-party preference against the ruling coalition, which is largely consistent with other polls.
Voting ends privately at the polling booths in suburban schools, beachside pavilions and outback halls at 6pm (0800 GMT).
Morrison and opposition leader Anthony Albanese voted in Sydney this morning after a whistle-stop tour across the marginal seats over 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 the 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 wanted a change of government, which he said was “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. Leaving real income in the red, inflation has risen more than twice as fast as wages.
The influence of the independent
While the economy is a key issue, several “Till Independents” are challenging major Liberal-held seats, campaigning for action on climate change after some of the worst floods and wildfires in Australia.
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.
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 is mandatory and preliminary results should be known by Saturday evening, although the Australian Election Commission has flagged that a clear winner may not emerge immediately if there is a close contest due to the time required to count nearly 3 million postal votes.
More than half of the votes had already been cast by Friday evening, with a record 8 million initial personal and postal votes, the commission said.
The two-hour time difference between East and West Coast means polling stations will still be open in Western Australia, as preliminary counts have begun to come from the densely populated East Coast states, with 124 of the 151 seats in the lower house.
(Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney and Sonali Paul in Melbourne; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Richard Pulin and William Mallard)