Australian prime minister calls elections for May 21
SYDNEY: Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison called federal elections for May 21 on Sunday, launching a come-from-behind battle to stay in power after three years rocked by floods, bushfires and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Morrison’s conservative government is struggling to woo Australia’s 17 million voters, lagging behind the opposition Labor Party in a string of opinion polls despite presiding over a rebounding economy with a 13-year-low jobless rate of four percent.
“It’s a choice between a strong future and an uncertain one. It’s a choice between a government you know and a Labor opposition that you don’t,” Morrison told a news conference in Canberra.
Polls show much of the electorate distrusts the 53-year-old leader, who fashions himself as a typical Australian family man and is unafraid of advertising his Pentecostal Christian faith.
Aiming to end nine years of Liberal-National Party rule is 59-year-old Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese. The opposition leader started the six-week race to the poll pushing a message of optimism before highlighting bruising attacks on Morrison’s character emanating from his own government.
“He’s running in an election campaign, whereby his deputy prime minister has said he’s a hypocrite and a liar,” Albanese told media in Sydney. “We can and we must do better. The pandemic has given us the opportunity to imagine a better future and Labor has the policies and plans to shape that future.”
A recent Newspoll survey showed Labor leading the coalition 54 per cent to 46pc on a two-party basis.
Morrison and Albanese were in a statistical tie as preferred prime minister for the next three-year term.
Multiple surveys show the cost of living, with gasoline prices notably soaring since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, is a key concern ahead of the election, in which voting is compulsory.
In a pre-election spree, the government announced an array of giveaways, including a fuel tax cut and a tax rebate for about half of the adult population.
But extreme weather events blamed on an overheating planet, and the government’s response, have also unnerved many Australians.
Morrison is a strident supporter of Australia’s vast fossil fuel industry.
He has vowed to mine and export coal for as long as there are buyers, touted a “gas-fired recovery” from the pandemic, and resisted global calls to cut carbon emissions faster by 2030.
As treasurer in 2017, he famously took a chunk of coal into parliament and told Labor: “This is coal, don’t be afraid.”
Morrison has been panned, too, over his handling of climate-related disasters in Australia.
During the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires, which killed more than 30 people, Morrison took his family on a Christmas holiday to Hawaii.
After cutting his break short, Morrison memorably told reporters he was sure people understood that “I don’t hold a hose, mate, and I don’t sit in a control room”.
“Morrison’s position was virtually untenable as a result of the Hawaii holiday,” said Mark Kenny, professor at the Australian National University in Canberra.
But the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic “changed everything,” he said, turning people’s minds to a new, global crisis. Morrison rightly injected “vast amounts of money” into the economy, but the vaccine rollout was painfully slow and he “messed up” the distribution of self-administered rapid antigen tests, Kenny said.
More recently, a deadly two-week east coast flooding disaster in late February and early March left residents seething at a perceived lack of government preparation and emergency help.
Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2022