CANBERRA – Polling stations opened across Australia on Saturday to allow voters to decide whether Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Conservative government will brave the odds and govern for a fourth three-year term.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese’s centre-left Labor Party is the favorite to win its first election since 2007.
But Morrison defied opinion polls in 2019 by leading his coalition to a narrow victory.
His coalition holds the narrowest majorities — 76 seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives, where parties need a majority to form a government.
Both leaders fought in Melbourne on Saturday morning before voting in their hometown of Sydney.
Albanese went with his partner Jodie Haydon, his 21-year-old son Nathan Albanese and his Cavoodle Toto to vote at Marrickville City Hall in his inner Sydney electorate.
Albanese would not be swayed to say whether Toto would move into the Prime Minister’s official residence in Sydney or Canberra if Labor won.
“We’re not making progress,” Albanese said. “I’m very positive and I’m hoping for a good result tonight.”
He was referring to his humble upbringing as the only child of a single mother who became a disabled pensioner and lived in government housing.
“One of the advantages of coming from where I come from is that you don’t overwhelm yourself. Everything in life is a bonus,” Albanese said.
Morrison voted with his wife Jenny at Lilli Pilli Public School in his constituency in south Sydney.
He later used the rare interception of a suspected asylum seeker boat attempting to enter Australian waters as a reason voters should re-elect his government.
The Australian Border Force said in a statement the boat was intercepted in a “probable attempt to enter Australia illegally from Sri Lanka”.
Australian policy was to return those on board to their point of departure, the statement said.
Morrison argues Labor is weaker in stopping people smugglers from kidnapping asylum seekers.
“I was here to stop that boat, but for me to be there to stop those who might come from here, you have to vote Liberal and National today,” Morrison told reporters, referring to his coalition.
The 15-passenger boat was intercepted near Christmas Island in Australia’s Indian Ocean on Saturday morning, Australian newspaper The Weekend reported.
The number of asylum seekers arriving by boat in Australian waters peaked at 20,000 in 2013, the year Morrison’s coalition was first elected.
Morrison’s first government role was to oversee a military-led operation that turned back boats seeking asylum and virtually ended human trafficking from Asia.
The first polling stations on the east coast of the country close at 6 p.m. local time (08:00 GMT). The west coast is two hours behind.
Due to the pandemic, more than 48% of Australia’s 17 million voters have voted early or requested absentee ballots, which is likely to slow the count.
Voting is compulsory for adult citizens and 92% of registered voters cast their ballots in the last election.
Early elections for travel or work reasons started two weeks ago and the Australian Electoral Commission will continue to collect postal votes for two more weeks.
The government on Friday changed regulations to allow people recently infected with COVID-19 to vote by phone.
Australian Elections Commissioner Tom Rogers said more than 7,000 polling stations opened as planned and on time across Australia, despite 15% of polling staff falling ill with COVID-19 and flu this week.
Albanese said he thought Morrison called last weekend’s election because the Australian prime minister is expected to attend a summit in Tokyo on Tuesday with US President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“If we get a clear result today, everyone who is prime minister will be on a plane to Tokyo on Monday, which is not ideal, I have to say, right after an election campaign,” Albanese said.
Analysts have said Morrison has delayed the election until the latest date available to give himself more time to narrow Labor’s lead in opinion polls.
Labor promises more spending on care for children and the elderly. The coalition promises better economic management as Australia’s deficit soars due to the pandemic.
Morrison said his government, if re-elected, would bring lower taxes and downward pressure on interest rates and the cost of living.
“It’s a decision about who can best manage our economy and our finances, because a strong economy guarantees your future,” Morrison said.
The closely-watched Newspoll, published in the Australian newspaper on Saturday, put Labor at the top with 53% of voter support.
The poll polled 2,188 voters across Australia from May 13-19 and had a 2.9% margin of error.
In the last election of 2019, the government versus Labor vote split was 51.5% versus 48.5% – the polar opposite of what Australia’s five most prominent polls, including Newspoll, had predicted.
As well as campaigning against Labour, Morrison’s conservative Liberal Party is fighting a new challenge from so-called blue-green independent candidates for re-election to key MPs in government strongholds.
Marketed as greener than the Liberal Party’s traditional blue colour, the blue-green independents want stronger government action to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions than either the Government or Labor are proposing.
The government aims to cut Australia’s emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030. Labor has promised a 43% cut.
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https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/05/20/australians-vote-to-determine-conservative-government-future/ Australians vote on the future of the Conservative government