Polls open in bitterly fought Australian election

Polls open in bitterly fought Australian election

A man casts his vote in Melbourne as polling centres open in Australia's federal election.
A man casts his vote in Melbourne as polling centres open in Australia's federal election.

MELBOURNE - Polls opened in Australia's federal election Saturday, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison fighting for another three-year term that would extend a decade of conservative rule.

Long queues formed in several stations, as Morrison -- behind in pre-election polls -- accused his rival Anthony Albanese of "hubris" in predicting a centre-left Labor win.

"You can't get ahead of yourself," said Morrison, in a last pre-election pitch to voters.

Albanese has predicted the race will be "close" and promised Australians "some honesty in politics" after Morrison's high-spin style.

People are "over" soundbites, Albanese said, on the eve of the vote, promising to transform Australia's resistance to tackling climate change.

"Give Labor a crack. We have plans for this country," he said. "We have plans to embrace the opportunities that are there from acting on climate change."

Morrison has promised to continue "strong" management of the economy and warned his rival cannot "manage money" and so is unfit for office.

More than 17 million Australians are registered to vote in an election that will decide who controls the House of Representatives, the Senate and who lives in the prime minister's "Lodge".

More than seven million people have already cast early or postal ballots, according to the Australian Electoral Commission.

Two final polls put Labor six points ahead of Morrison's Liberal-led coalition, but with the race narrowing and neither party assured of an outright victory.

- 'Fatigued and tired' -

Speaking in Adelaide during a four-state election-eve blitz, Albanese welled up as he reflected on his personal journey -- from the son of a single mum living in Sydney public housing to the threshold of the highest office in the land.

"It says a lot about this country," he said Friday, voice cracking with emotion. "That someone from those beginnings... can stand before you today, hoping to be elected prime minister of this country tomorrow."

If elected, Albanese notes he would be the first Australian with a non-Anglo or Celtic surname to be prime minister.

But he is up against a tough campaigner in incumbent Morrison, who defied the polls three years ago in what he termed a "miracle" election.

Speaking in Western Australia, Morrison admitted his compatriots go into election day "fatigued and tired" having endured three years of bushfires, droughts, floods and the coronavirus pandemic.

"I understand that frustration," he said, while pounding out the same message that defied the odds last time: Labor cannot be trusted on the economy.

- 'Not up to the job' -

Morrison has characterised Albanese as a "loose unit" because of his high-profile gaffes, notably forgetting the national jobless rate when quizzed by reporters.

"This is the sort of stuff that prime ministers need to know," Morrison said in an interview Friday as he campaigned in Western Australia.

"We have seen that he is not up to the job and it's bigger than him."

Morrison boasted of new data showing Australia's unemployment rate fell to a 48-year low of 3.9 percent in April as an "extraordinary achievement" that showed his plan was working.

Both sides are trying to woo voters fretting about the rising cost of living, with annual inflation shooting up to 5.1 percent and wages failing to keep up in real terms.

In a country scarred by ever-fiercer natural disasters, Labor is promising to do more to help the environment.

Morrison has resisted calls to cut carbon emissions faster by 2030 and supports mining and burning coal into the distant future to boost the economy.

In wealthy suburban areas, many voters are being wooed by a band of more than 20 independent candidates, mostly women, offering conservative policies coupled with strong action on climate change.

Albanese has also promised strong action on corruption -- after Morrison failed to deliver a promised federal anti-graft watchdog.

He has branded Morrison's administration the "least open, least fair dinkum government in Australian political history".

- Slim lead for Labor -

In the final days before the vote, Morrison's economic warnings appear to have whittled down the polling lead enjoyed by Labor.

But all surveys still show Morrison's coalition lagging.

An Ipsos poll released late Thursday and a YouGov/Newspoll released Friday gave Labor a 53-47 percent lead over the coalition on a two-party preferred basis.

Registered voters are required by law to cast a ballot to avoid an Aus$20 (US$14) fine.

The election campaign has also delivered lighter moments.

Three days before the vote, Morrison barrelled into a young boy, sending both crashing to the ground during a friendly children's football game in Tasmania.

The following day, Australia's employment minister Stuart Robert appeared to deflect blame for the incident from the prime minister.

"There was a high five afterwards, so it was just an error from both of them," he said.

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