Final opinion polls suggest Labor's Anthony Albanese on track to defeat PM Morrison

The Newspoll showed Mr Albanese (left) and Mr Morrison were each preferred as prime minister by 42 per cent of voters. PHOTOS: REUTERS

SYDNEY - Australian opposition leader Anthony Albanese remains the favourite to defeat Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a federal election on Saturday (May 21), despite last-minute opinion polls showing that the race is tightening.

On the last day of the six-week campaign, Mr Albanese attacked the ruling Liberal-National coalition for failing to address rising cost-of-living pressures. He pointed to new figures released this week that showed average wages increased by just 2.4 per cent in the past year, even as annual inflation reached 5.1 per cent

"Wages aren't keeping up with the cost of living," he told reporters on Friday (May 20). "It's not bad luck. It's bad policy."

Mr Albanese is seeking to end nine years of the coalition rule and become the first Labor leader to win since Mr Kevin Rudd in 2007.

Despite being a veteran MP from Labor's left faction, he has largely proposed unambitious, centrist policies that do not significantly divert from the coalition's approaches to taxation and national security. But he has pledged stronger action on climate change, support for wage increases, and higher spending on education, childcare and aged care.

"We have a government that has no plan for the future," he said on Friday.

Labor has been safely ahead in the opinion polls for months, but final surveys showed that its lead was reducing, though not enough for the coalition to win.

A Newspoll survey released on Friday night showed Labor held a 53 per cent to 47 per cent lead over the coalition - a result that, if accurate, would mark a dramatic victory for Labor. But polls have also shown Labor's direct support has been slipping in recent days, even though all national surveys have found it has been more popular than the coalition for months.

Australians have consistently indicated they support a change of government, despite the country's success in weathering the pandemic and the strong state of its economy. Official data this week showed the unemployment rate was 3.9 per cent, the lowest level in 48 years.

But Mr Morrison has grown increasingly unpopular over concerns about his handling of devastating bushfires and floods, his initial reluctance to quickly roll out vaccines, and his refusal to adopt ambitious climate targets.

The Newspoll on Friday night showed Mr Albanese and Mr Morrison were each preferred as prime minister by 42 per cent of voters, with 16 per cent uncommitted. This was a sharp drop from a year ago, when Mr Morrison was preferred by 55 per cent of voters, compared with just 30 per cent for Mr Albanese, and 15 per cent uncommitted.

But the Prime Minister still harbours a hope of winning. He trailed in all major polls at the last election in 2019, but won a slim majority - a result that the devout Christian called a "miracle".

Mr Morrison used the final day of the campaign to criticise Labor's plan to run higher budget deficits than the coalition, saying this could lead to higher interest rates and affect the cost of living.

"Those who are facing that hardship will not be helped by a Labor government that can't manage money," he said.

Another wild card at this election is the popularity of independent candidates, who could potentially hold the balance of power if neither Labor nor the coalition win a clear majority in the 151-member House of Representatives.

Sensing the public's concern about his leadership, Mr Morrison, who typically presents himself as defiantly unwavering, suddenly signalled in recent days that he would change his leadership style if he wins another term.

"Australians know that I can be a bit of a bulldozer when it comes to issues," he told reporters this week. "On the other side of this election, I know there are things that are going to have to change with the way I do things, because we're moving into a different time."

Responding to Mr Morrison's startling promise of personal change, Mr Albanese said: "Even Scott Morrison wants to distance himself from Scott Morrison. We can do better than that."

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