Australia's Labor leader Anthony Albanese wins over audience in final debate

Australian opposition leader Anthony Albanese reacts during the third leaders' debate, in Sydney, on May 11, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

CANBERRA (BLOOMBERG) - Opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanese has narrowly been selected as the winner of the final election debate on Wednesday (May 11) night by an audience of undecided voters, giving him a boost less than two weeks out from a national election on May 21.

Both Mr Albanese and Prime Minister Scott Morrison were pressed on increasing the minimum wage, climate change and political integrity in an hour-long debate, hosted by the Seven Network. In the end, Mr Albanese was picked as the winner by 50 per cent of an audience of 160 undecided voters, while 34 per cent said Mr Morrison had been the most convincing.

Australia is due to head to an election on May 21 with Mr Morrison's incumbent Liberal National coalition government campaigning for a fourth term in power off the back of a strong economy and record-low unemployment. Meanwhile the opposition has focused on rising inflation and low wage growth to argue there is a cost-of-living "crisis" in Australia.

Despite some tightening in opinion surveys in the initial weeks of the campaign, when Mr Albanese struggled to recall economic and policy details, Labor has consistently led in polling since the election was called in April. A Newspoll survey published on Sunday found the opposition widening its lead over the government to 54 to 46 per cent.

But Mr Morrison was widely expected to lose the last election, after his party was behind in polling for much of the campaign, and instead won a surprise victory. Then-Labor leader Bill Shorten was proclaimed the winner of all three election debates in 2019, only to lose the vote itself.

The debate between the two leaders on Wednesday was more ordered and polite than the chaotic second debate on Sunday, which often descended into shouting matches between Mr Morrison and Mr Albanese.

At the start of Wednesday's debate, Mr Albanese was questioned on comments he made this week appearing to back a 5.1 per cent minimum wage rise to keep up with inflation. Mr Morrison warned such an increase could lift inflation and interest rates, leading to further cost-of-living pressures.

"We can't have a situation where someone may get a wage rise but then gets it all taken back in higher interest rates," Mr Morrison said.

Both leaders were also questioned on their climate action commitments, with both swearing to not put in place a "carbon tax" to bring down Australia's emissions. Mr Morrison said he wanted to invest in yet-to-be-developed technology to reduce the country's carbon footprint, while Mr Albanese said he would push an increased use of renewable energy.

"We need to move on from this debate," Mr Albanese said. "Climate change is real and it's here now."

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