Polls point to cliffhanger on Australian election eve

Early voters in Australia's July 2 general election walk to a polling centre past banners promoting Labour leader Bill Shorten (left) and Liberal Party Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at Sydney's Town Hall on June 29.
Early voters in Australia's July 2 general election walk to a polling centre past banners promoting Labour leader Bill Shorten (left) and Liberal Party Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at Sydney's Town Hall on June 29.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (AFP, BLOOMBERG) - Australia's leaders made last-gasp pitches Friday (July 1) to wow voters with polls on the eve of elections pointing to a cliffhanger as the media swung behind "reformer" Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Liberal Turnbull and Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten both opted to campaign in Sydney on their final day on the hustings as part of appeals to undecided voters who may determine which party will form government. The appeals by former banker Turnbull, 61, and  ex-union leader Shorten, 49, came as a poll in The Sydney Morning Herald showed them locked in a dead heat on a two-party basis.

But the survey of 1,377 people also said that when all candidates were included, 27 per cent planned to vote for the Greens or other minor parties and independents.

This raises the prospect of a hung parliament where no side commands a majority in the lower house. At least 76 seats are needed for a majority in the 150-seat House of Representatives. The coalition won 90 in the 2013 election, to Labor’s 55. 

Another poll in the Sydney Daily Telegraph had the ruling conservatives 51-49 per cent in front on two-party basis.

"I am focused on winning every seat that we hold and winning more," said Turnbull, who has capitalised on the political and financial instability sparked by Britain's decision to exit the European Union. 

Turnbull, who is seeking a second three-year term for his coalition, has emphasized the need for stability and steady leadership. "What we need to ensure is the continuation of my stable coalition majority government delivering on an economic plan that secures our future in these times which are times of opportunity and also risk." Economic management has been a key election battleground with last week's shock decision by Britain stoking anxiety about pressures facing Australia's economy.

The country's major newspapers are backing Turnbull, with News Corp Australia and Fairfax Media mastheads citing the need for stability.

Rupert Murdoch's The Australian said Turnbull offered "a path to national economic success", a stance backed by its tabloid stablemate The Daily Telegraph.

"The prime minister has demonstrated he knows the importance of a firm rein on public spending and offering a leg up for private sector growth," The Australian said in an editorial of the former banker.

"Mr Turnbull may be just the leader to urge the nation back on the path of meaningful reform."

The Fairfax-owned Sydney Morning Herald also endorsed Turnbull on its front-page. "Given the choice between a coalition led by the socially progressive economic reformer Mr Turnbull, and a Shorten-led Labor party backed by reform-resistant unions, we support the election of a Turnbull government," it said.

Shorten has campaigned on improving health and education while pledging more renewable energy and a fairer tax system, and remained upbeat that Labor could cause an upset.

"I hope that we've done enough... It really is now in the hands of the people of Australia," he said.

Voting is mandatory in Australia and by Friday some 2.2 million of the 15.6 million enrolled voters had already cast their ballots at pre-polling stations and via postal votes, the electoral commission said.