Turnbull expected to squeak through Australia elections

Early voting in Sydney ahead of Australia's general election today. The campaign has featured no knock-out blows or serious blunders by the rival leaders and has been conducted with a surprising degree of civility.
Early voting in Sydney ahead of Australia's general election today. The campaign has featured no knock-out blows or serious blunders by the rival leaders and has been conducted with a surprising degree of civility.PHOTO: REUTERS

Polls show he is likely to prevail over Labor leader but may not have a majority in Senate

Australians go to the polls today for a general election as opinion surveys indicate Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is neck-and-neck with Labor leader Bill Shorten and is likely to win but will struggle to gain a majority in the Senate.

After an eight-week campaign, both leaders resorted to fear campaigns yesterday as they conducted last-minute blitzes of marginal seats in western Sydney. 

Mr Turnbull, a former investment banker, accused Labor of not supporting the Australia-China free trade deal, which took effect last December. Labor backed the deal but proposed amendments.

Meanwhile, Labor has been peddling claims that the Coalition plans to privatise Medicare, the national health scheme, even though the Coalition has ruled this out.

The Medicare claims appear to be having an impact, prompting Mr Turnbull to brand Mr Shorten a liar. In response, the former union leader said he wanted to be prime minister rather than "chief name caller of Australia".

"I am not interested in calling Mr Turnbull any particular name. I don't think Australians want that sort of politics."

The election follows Mr Turnbull's move last September to oust then Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who was unpopular and appeared to be heading for defeat. 

Despite expectations that Mr Turnbull will win, two opinion polls released yesterday indicate the contest is too close to call. 

A poll by Galaxy had the ruling Liberal-National Coalition ahead by 51 per cent to 49 per cent; the other, by Fairfax-Ipsos, had Labor ahead by the same margin.

However, Mr Turnbull has a strong lead as preferred prime minister, and internal polling by the two sides reportedly indicates that the Coalition is safely ahead in the tight-fought marginal seats.

The unusually long campaign - one of the longest in Australian history - has featured no knock-out blows or serious blunders by the rival leaders and has been conducted with a surprising degree of civility. It has largely been free of divisive issues that have dominated recent campaigns, such as efforts to deter migrants arriving by boat and climate change policy.  

Instead, Mr Turnbull has presented himself as a calm, stable leader who will focus on scaling back spending and boosting the economy. Mr Shorten has emphasised fairness and promised extra spending on health and education.

Numerous surveys show that about a quarter of Australians are considering voting for minor parties or independents. 

This suggests Mr Turnbull's Coalition - even if it wins a majority in the Lower House and remains in government - will not win a majority in the Upper House, or Senate.

Such a result would come as a setback for Mr Turnbull, who called an early "double dissolution" election - at which all senators are up for re-election, rather than half - to try to end the gridlock in the Senate.

The Greens and another minor party, led by popular independent MP Nick Xenophon, are expected to perform strongly. 

Political commentator Peter Hartcher said many voters appeared to have "switched off" but the Coalition and Labor had stuck to their messages to try to swing votes in the marginal seats.

"The evidence of the betting markets, the polls of individual marginal seats... all point to a Turnbull victory, but a slender one... An upset, possibly another hung Parliament, is a realistic prospect," he wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2016, with the headline 'Turnbull expected to squeak through Australia elections'. Print Edition | Subscribe