Australia’s colorful election day could upend coalition government

By Hilary Whiteman, CNN

Election Day creates a carnival atmosphere at polling stations across Australia, but beneath the bonhomie lies a serious decision – and Saturday’s vote has the potential to usher in major change.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is asking voters to re-elect his centre-right Liberal-National coalition government, after a three-year term plagued by the pandemic, climate disasters and accusations of dishonesty.

Morrison’s popularity has waned since he defied the polls to clinch a “miracle” victory over Labor in 2019, and this election is seen as a referendum on his self-proclaimed “bulldozer” style of leadership.

Morrison’s main rival is Anthony Albanese, a Labor Party veteran who inherited the party leadership after his predecessor resigned in shock after the 2019 election defeat.

This time, Labor has reduced its political offers to reduce the difference between itself and the coalition, although both face an unprecedented challenge from ‘teal’ independents, who are campaigning for more climate action. and political integrity.

Backed by the founding millionaire of “Climate 200”, the color teal blends their “blue” liberal views with “green” beliefs.

Big parties need at least 76 seats to govern outright – no less and they will have to negotiate with smaller parties and independents to gain enough support to form a minority government.

Voting is compulsory and more than 17 million Australians are expected to have voted before polls close at 6 p.m. AET (4 a.m. ET) on Saturday.

If there is a clear winner, the outcome could be known within hours, but a close race can take days or even weeks to resolve.

The big issues

Across the country, smoke billows from barbecues at polling stations as volunteers prepare ‘Democracy sausages’ wrapped in a slice of bread topped with onions and gravy – a decades-old Australian election tradition .

Volunteers wearing party colors hover nearby, waiting to shove “how to vote” cards into the hands of anyone they suspect is undecided.

After leading the polls for weeks, the chances of a Labor victory in the final days before the vote have dwindled, although public polls are approached with caution following the upheaval of 2019. Then even the bookmakers were caught off guard with SportsBet reportedly losing more than $5 million after paying out a Labor victory two days earlier.

Australian elections are usually a two-horse race between the Liberal-National coalition and Labor – and while their policies appear similar, these are important distinctions.

Most significant globally is their stance on the climate crisis.

The Morrison government has been branded ‘recalcitrant’ by the UN secretary-general after it presented a plan to achieve net zero by 2050 by creating massive new gas projects. The government says it supports a transition from coal to renewables, but has no plans to stop new coal projects.

Labor says it will cut emissions by 43% by 2030, which is above the coalition target of 26-28% but less than what climate scientists say is needed to keep rising global temperature below 1.5 degrees Celsius, as agreed in the Paris Agreement. Climate-conscious independents want emissions cuts closer to 60% by 2030 and are disrupting the warm relationship between the government and the mining industry.

Little separates the main parties on foreign policy, although Labor says they will rebuild the relationship they accuse the coalition of damaging during his tenure. This includes the French, whom Morrison angered by canceling a $90 billion submarine contract in favor of the AUKUS security pact with the US and UK. The coalition and Labor pledged to be tough on China, which signed a security deal with the Solomon Islands during the election campaign, leading to claims Canberra had dropped the ball in the Pacific.

Other issues dominating the election include housing affordability, inflation and the cost of living, which are not unique to Australia. Morrison says only the coalition can be trusted to manage a pandemic-battered economy amid predictions that rising interest rates could inflict more financial hardship on overextended homeowners. Meanwhile, Labor says it is the only party standing up for workers whose wages have stagnated even as inflation hits its highest level in 20 years.

Why Morrison might go

Morrison stumbled just months into his leadership when he made the politically disastrous decision to vacation in Hawaii as bushfires ravaged the country. He cut his vacation short after the deaths of two volunteer firefighters, but justified his absence to a radio interviewer with a phrase that has become shorthand for spending money: “I don’t hold a pipe, mate” .

Months later, when the first case of Covid was discovered in Australia, Morrison was quick to act. He closed the country’s borders for two years but was criticized for not rolling out vaccinations quickly, which critics say allowed local outbreaks to take hold, forcing major cities into lockdown for decades. month. To date, just over 8,000 people have died in Australia from Covid, and around 50,000 new cases are being reported every day.

The PM was also attacked for his lack of empathy when dealing with a Liberal staffer who alleged she was raped in parliament, prompting a mass rally in 2021 by Australian women who called on the government to do better. During the pandemic, women’s groups have criticized the government’s drive to rebuild male-dominated ‘helmet’ industries, while neglecting sectors that largely employ women – hospitality, the arts – which have suffered from prolonged closures.

Insults were hurled throughout the election campaign, with Morrison branding Albanese a ‘loose unit’ after the Labor leader said he would ‘absolutely’ support a pay rise to keep up with inflation. Morrison turned the mirror on himself when he admitted at a press conference he could be a bit of a ‘bulldozer’ – then vowed he would change. Election results can reveal whether voters believe them.

The big unknown in this election is whether voters will turn their backs on the big parties to vote for the smaller parties or the independents. Most Teal Independents are highly educated women who have turned to politics and become frustrated with the ‘boy’s club’ of Canberra politics.

Hanabeth Luke was nominated as an independent in the electorate of Page in northern New South Wales after hearing Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce say the government could not cut greenhouse gas emissions because it would harm farmers.

“I was furious,” said Luke, a scientist who teaches climate resilience at Southern Cross University. At the time, she was marking students’ homework on their lived experience of climate change. “The students made me cry. We are talking about crops dying in the fields, then fires burning the crops, then a flood washing away the fields,” she said.

“The rage I felt then led me to say ‘there is an election coming up. We cannot leave this government for another three years to allow our children’s future to burn.

Polls on independents are mixed, but Zareh Ghazarian, a politics professor at Monash University, says some could do “real damage” to the Liberal Party.

One of the most influential battles is taking place in the Victorian seat of Kooyong, where Monique Ryan, a pediatric neurologist and newcomer to politics, seeks to replace Liberal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who is seen as a future leader of the Liberal Party.

“If (the independents) were to win their seats, it would not only make it harder for the Liberal Party to maintain government, but it would also deprive them of potential leadership options in the future,” Ghazarian said. “So it’s a big issue for the coalition.”

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