SYDNEY – Australians voted in a national election on Saturday, with opinion polls narrowly showing the opposition Labor Party ahead of the ruling Conservative coalition, although a strong display of climate-centric individualism could lead to 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 in private polling stations in suburban schools, beach pavilions and outback halls will open at 8 a.m. (Friday 2200 GMT) and close at 6 p.m. (0800 GMT).
Morrison and Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese have taken whistle-stop tours across the marginal seats over the last two days of the campaign, influenced by rising living costs, climate change, national security and integrity.
As Labor focuses on rising inflation and wage growth, Morrison has made the country’s lowest unemployment rate in almost half a century 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.
“People are really struggling and this government is completely out of touch,” Albanese told ABC Television on Saturday. “This country can’t afford the same cost for another three years … cracking down on labor.”
Morrison said labor policies would put further upward pressure on inflation and widen the deficit.
“It just puts more pressure on the cost of living and ultimately pays higher taxes because when (labor) can’t manage money, they always come after you,” he told Channel Nine.
While the economy is a key issue, several so-called “Till Independents” are challenging major Liberal-dominated seats, campaigning for action on climate change in Australia after some devastating floods and wildfires.
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 due to the time required to count around 3 million postal votes, a clear winner may not emerge immediately if it is a close contest.
The Australian Electoral Commission said more than half of the votes had already been cast by Friday evening, with a record 8 million initial-personal and postal votes.
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; Editing by Lincoln Fist and Richard Pulin)