© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Australian incumbent Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during the second leaders’ debate of the 2022 federal election campaign at the Nine studio in Sydney, Australia May 8, 2022. Alex Ellinghausen/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
By Kirsty Needham
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison criss-crossed the country in a final day of campaigning, insisting he could still win Saturday’s election despite polls pointing to a change of government or hung parliament.
Morrison and Labor Opposition leader Anthony Albanese targeted marginal seats in the final 48 hours of the six-week campaign as data showed wages growth being outstripped by inflation, and record low unemployment – fodder for competing claims on who would best manage the economy.
An Ipsos opinion poll published by the Australian Financial Review showed Labor leading Morrison’s ruling Liberal-National coalition 53% to 47% on a two-party preferred basis, where votes are ranked by preference and distributed to the highest two candidates.
Labor’s primary vote shrunk to 36% to the coalition’s 35%, with minor parties and independents attracting nearly a third of voters, raising the prospect of a minority government.
Morrison, in a blitz of media interviews on Friday morning, said he could still win, and pointed to his economic competence.
“What I’ve demonstrated over these last three years – not everybody’s agreed with me… and not everybody likes me – but that’s not the point. The point is, who can manage the nation’s finances to keep downward pressure on rising interest rates, downward pressure on cost of living?” he said on ABC News Breakfast, before campaigning in Western Australia.
Albanese campaigned with former Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard in the South Australian capital of Adelaide on Friday morning.
In 2010, after the election delivered a hung parliament, Gillard only formed government after extended negotiations with independents and minor parties.
In key Liberal seats, the biggest threat is a wave of independent candidates, mostly female, campaigning for action on climate change after some of the worst floods and fires to hit Australia.
Another challenge for the major parties is a A$40 million advertising blitz by billionaire Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party, which is fielding candidates nationally.
ABC election analyst Antony Green said unlike the previous election, Palmer’s advertising blitz hadn’t singled out Labor for attack, which could impact preference flows and the result.
Election rules were changed on Friday to allow all voters who tested positive for COVID-19 to vote by telephone, removing a cut-off of Wednesday.
More than 6.5 million pre-poll or postal votes were already cast out of 17 million eligible voters in Australia’s compulsory voting system.
COST OF LIVING BATTLES
Morrison pledged to become “inclusive and bring more people with us” if re-elected, after polling showed his personality could be a hurdle for the Liberal vote, particularly women.
The government has also played up its credentials in supporting the economy through the COVID-19 pandemic, pointing to data on Thursday showing Australia’s jobless rate fell to 3.9% in April, the lowest in 48 years.
Labor said businesses had struggled to find workers after Australia’s borders were closed and highlighted other data that showed wages had grown just 2.4%, the lowest since 1998. It wants to boost the minimum wage to keep pace with inflation of 5.1%.
Albanese said the data showed “how tough families are doing it around Australia”.
“They’re thinking to themselves how do I pay my bills? How do I pay my rent? How do I afford food and the essentials of life?” he told reporters in Sydney on Thursday.
Morrison began the campaign putting his hawkish stance on China as an electoral strength, but was accused by Labor of making Australia “less secure” after China struck a security pact with the neighbouring Solomon Islands.
Labor has pledged consistency on China policy. Albanese said if he wins on Saturday, he intends to travel to Tokyo for a meeting of the Quad security group of the United States, Japan and India, scheduled just three days later.
Cost of living in focus as Australia’s election race hits final stretch