Economic Woes, Climate Change ‘Hot’ Issues as Australians Vote to Decide Conservative Govt Future

Australians cast their ballots in a national election on Saturday, with opinion polls showing the opposition Labor Party narrowly ahead of the ruling Conservative coalition, even though a strong performance by climate-change independents could lead to a hung parliament.

Center-left Labor has made decent campaign progress after nine years in opposition, but recent polls show Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s national liberal government is closing the gap in the final phase of a difficult six-week campaign.

An Election Day Newspoll poll showed Labor’s lead slipped a point to 53-47 on the basis of a two-party preference against the ruling coalition, broadly in line with other election opinion polls.

In-person voting at polling booths in suburban schools, beachfront suites and outlying auditoriums opened at 8 a.m. (2200 GMT Friday) and will close at 6 p.m. (0800 GMT).

Morrison and opposition leader Anthony Albanese made whistle-blowing rides through the fringe seats in the final two days of a campaign that has been dominated by rising costs of living, climate change, national security and integrity.

As Labor focused on rising inflation and slowing wage growth, Morrison made the country’s lowest unemployment rate in nearly half a century a cornerstone in the final hours of his campaign. Inflation rose twice as fast as wages, keeping real income in the red.

“People are really struggling and this government is far from out of touch,” Albanese told ABC television on Saturday. “This country cannot afford three more years of the same time…

Morrison said Labor’s policies would increase upward pressure on inflation and widen the deficit.

“This just increases the pressure on the cost of living and ultimately means higher taxes because when (workers) can’t manage the money, they always come after you,” he told Channel Nine.

While the economy is a major issue, many so-called “seasoned independents” are defying key Liberal-held seats, calling for action on climate change after some of Australia’s worst floods and fires.

In the outgoing parliament, the Liberal-National coalition won 76 of the 151 seats in the House of Representatives, while the Labor Party held 68 seats, with seven minor and independent party members.

Voting is mandatory and preliminary results should be known by Saturday evening, although the Australian Electoral Commission has identified a clear winner, who may not emerge immediately if the competition is close due to the time required to count some 3 million postal votes.

The Australian Electoral Commission said more than half of the votes had been cast as of Friday evening, with 8 million early in-person and email votes registered.

The two-hour time difference between the east and west coasts means polling stations in Western Australia will remain open as preliminary censuses start from the densely populated east coast states, which hold 124 of the 151 seats in the House of Representatives.

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