Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has edged ahead in the opinion polls ahead of the general election, with the ruling Coalition rising to its highest rating since the campaign started eight weeks ago.
With just days until the election on Saturday, the Coalition has a 51 per cent to 49 per cent lead over the opposition Labor Party, according to a Newspoll out yesterday. Mr Turnbull is the preferred prime minister of 45 per cent of voters, with opposition leader Bill Shorten at 30 per cent.
The Brexit vote last week appears to have given a boost to Mr Turnbull, a former investment banker who has centred his campaign on his economic credentials.
Responding to Britain's decision to leave the European Union, Mr Turnbull yesterday said he has ordered urgent reports on the impact from Australia's central bank and corporate regulators. He has also signalled cooperating with his New Zealand counterpart John Key to formulate a response. "We are keeping a very, very close eye on it," Mr Turnbull told reporters.
Mr Shorten, a former union leader, yesterday stuck to his focus on health and education, warning that a re-elected Coalition government would weaken Medicare, the national healthcare system.
NO REAL DEAL-BUSTER
Some people find the campaign a bit long and people have got their arguments with all politicians but… I just don't find anger.
MR JOHN HOWARD, former Coalition prime minister, who says incumbent PM Malcolm Turnbull will win the polls comfortably.
"You cannot be prime minister of this great country if you're not prepared to prioritise the healthcare of Australians," he said.
Labor is being forced to defend its policy costings, released on Sunday and revealing that its election promises would add an extra A$16.5 billion (S$16.6 billion) to Australia's growing deficit over the next four years. The Coalition is set to release its policy costings today.
Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen said Labor would avoid heavy spending cuts in the short term but aimed to deliver "a much healthier budget over the medium term". He said Labor rejected the Coalition's A$50 billion of tax cuts for business but would instead raise extra revenue by removing tax concessions for property investors.
Both sides plan to restore the Budget to surplus by 2020 but Labor has proposed higher deficits in the coming four years.
But Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said that would leave Australia "less resilient to deal with future economic headwinds".
Commentators have criticised both the Coalition and Labor for doing little to rein in public debt.
"The Liberal and Labor parties are competing for power," wrote political commentator Peter Hartcher in The Sydney Morning Herald.
"They are not truly competing to solve Australia's spending addiction. They are both leading the country into a fiscal fantasy."
The Coalition has trailed Labor for much of the campaign but the polls have turned in Mr Turnbull's favour in recent weeks. A new analysis combining the results of 11 recent opinion polls indicates the Coalition leading Labor by 50.3 per cent to 49.7 per cent. The analysis, by pollster John Stirton, also suggests Labor could win 13 seats from the Coalition, but not the 21 it needs for a majority.
Former Coalition prime minister John Howard said he thought Mr Turnbull would win comfortably and he did not believe that voters were sufficiently "angry" to want to overthrow the government.
"Some people find the campaign a bit long and people have got their arguments with all politicians but … I just don't find anger," he told Sky News yesterday.