SYDNEY – Voting ends Saturday in Australia’s eastern states, with opinion polls narrowly showing the opposition Labor Party narrowly ahead of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Conservative Alliance, which has ruled for nearly a decade.
However, a strong display of climate-centric individuals could result in a hanging parliament.
Most Australians live on its east coast, where polling stations in suburban churches, beach pavilions and outback halls close at 6pm (0800 GMT). The states of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania, and the Australian Capital Territory hold 124 of the 151 lower house seats.
Voting continued until 0830 GMT in the South Australian State and Northern Territory, and up to 1000 GMT in the Western Australian State, during which time some of the Eastern States’ preliminary vote count details are expected to be known.
The center-left Labor gave a decent lead after nine years of opposition, but recent polls have shown that Morrison’s 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.
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.
(Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney and Sonali Paul in Melbourne; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Richard Pulin and William Mallard)