Australia's Malcolm Turnbull stakes future on July 2 election

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will start the campaign as favourite because of his high approval ratings and strong lead as preferred prime minister over rival Bill Shorten.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will start the campaign as favourite because of his high approval ratings and strong lead as preferred prime minister over rival Bill Shorten.PHOTO: REUTERS

Aussie PM calls rare double-dissolution polls, where all MPs are up for election; urges nation to 'stay the distance'

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday called an early election for July 2, staking his political future on a pledge to lower taxes, cut spending and reshape the nation's economy as its mining boom ends.

Urging the nation to "stay the distance" and back his conservative Liberal-National coalition, the self-made multimillionaire opted for a risky move to hold one of the longest election campaigns in the nation's history.

He is hoping the election will end an era of political turbulence, in which Australia has had five different leaders in less than a decade.

Opinion polls show the coalition is even with - or slightly behind - the Labor opposition, although Mr Turnbull will start the campaign as favourite because of his high approval ratings and strong lead as preferred prime minister over his rival, Mr Bill Shorten.

Presenting a rosy picture of the nation's future, Mr Turnbull, 61, highlighted the proximity to Asia's growing economies and insisted that "it is the most exciting time to be an Australian".

"The opportunities for Australia have never been greater," he told reporters in Canberra.

"In a few years, more than half of the world's middle class will be living in Asia… If we embrace this future with confidence and with optimism, with self-belief and a clear plan, then we will succeed as we have never succeeded before."

The election campaign is set to pit the coalition's mantra of "jobs and growth" against Labor's emphasis on "fairness".

Mr Shorten, 48, a former union leader and party power broker, has promised to scale back tax concessions for property investors - a controversial move which is supported by many economists but could lead to lower housing prices.

He has promised to boost health and education spending and hold a royal commission into the banking and financial services sector, following scandals involving clients receiving poor financial advice. He also plans to reintroduce a carbon emissions trading scheme to combat climate change.

"I will fight this election to make Australia a fairer place," he said.

Mr Turnbull became PM only eight months after ousting Mr Tony Abbott in a party-room coup.

But he has been a well-known public figure for decades, as a prominent lawyer, Internet entrepreneur and a former leader of the Republican movement. Despite being more progressive than many MPs in his party, he has accepted his party's more conservative approach on issues such as climate change and legalising same-sex marriage. It remains to be seen whether, if he wins his first election, he will adopt a more liberal political agenda.

Australia's economy has enjoyed more than two decades of growth but has slowed in recent years, hurt by the fading mining boom.

Mr Turnbull said yesterday he wants to promote jobs in new technology and science, painting Labor as a big-spending risk.

He has opted to call a rare double-dissolution election, meaning all MPs will be up for election, to try to secure an Upper House majority. Typically, only about half of the Upper House seats are contested.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2016, with the headline 'Turnbull stakes future on July 2 election'. Print Edition | Subscribe