Voting closed on Saturday in Australia’s general election, with the main opposition Labor Party, led by Bill Shorten, seen to have the upper hand amid a slumping property market that is dragging down an already sluggish economy.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s ruling conservative coalition of the Liberal and National parties has lost support in recent years due largely to internal strife that saw one prime minster ousted from office just last August.
Local news media Nine News reported that early exit polls point to a Labor win, with the opposition party leading 52% to 48% for the coalition.
Up for grabs are all 151 seats in the House of Representatives and about half the Senate’s 76 seats. If Labor prevails, the country would see its first change in government in six years.
Members in the lower house serve for three years while those in the upper house serve six. The leader of a party or coalition with a majority in the lower house becomes prime minister.
Shorten voted in the morning in Melbourne after his usual jog. Munching on a sausage sandwich, a staple at Australian polling stations, Shorten told local media that it tasted like “a mood for change.”
Morrison began his day in Tasmania with bit of last-minute campaigning. “You can stop Bill Shorten’s higher taxes today by voting Liberal and National today,” he said on local broadcaster Seven News.
At the time of dissolution, the Liberal-National coalition held 74 seats in the lower house against 69 for Labor and seven for smaller parties such as the Greens and independents.
In addition to the voters coming to the polls today, a record 4.76 million Australians cast early ballots.
At Darlinghurst Public School, a voting station for the Sydney and Wentworth constituency, the mood was festive. Voters gathered with their families to check out stalls selling fundraising sausages and cupcakes.
A 29-year-old Riley Meads, who voted for a Liberal candidate in the previous federal election, said he was fed up with the government as “they kept changing leaders.” He voted for Labor as his first choice. “As a young voter, [the Liberals] don’t do much for me,” he added.
The campaign focused on climate change, taxes and the economy. The conservatives touted Australia’s first budget surplus in 12 years running through June 2020, while Labor hammered home the need for eco-friendly industrial policies, such as support for electric car development and domestic production of lithium ion batteries.
The Liberal Party took over government in 2013, but factional strife resulted in two changes of prime minsters, once in 2015 and again last August. Both moves have considerably undermined public trust.
Meanwhile, Labor has trotted out the fact that Shorten has remained party chief since 2013, holding out the promise of a more stable government if voted into power.