SYDNEY - Australia's Labor party is expected to defeat the ruling coalition in the federal election on Saturday (May 18) despite opinion surveys indicating a last-minute tightening of the contest.
On the eve of the election, a series of national polls all indicated Labor had a 51 to 49 per cent lead and was on track to win a small majority in the 151-member Lower House.
A poll by market research company Ipsos published on Friday indicated the Coalition had recovered ground since last month, when it trailed by 47 to 53 per cent.
However, a number of surveys indicated that people are increasingly supportive of Labor leader Bill Shorten becoming prime minister, despite his low approval ratings.
According to the Ipsos survey, 40 per cent of people would prefer Mr Shorten as prime minister compared with 47 per cent support for Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
The remainder were undecided.
Mr Shorten had trailed by 11 percentage points last month.
Despite Australia enjoying a world-record 27 years of uninterrupted economic growth, voters appear inclined to switch to Labor following six tumultuous years in which the Liberal-National Coalition has churned through three separate leaders.
But this followed Labor's own run of internal coups. If Mr Shorten, as expected, wins on Saturday, he will become Australia's seventh prime minister since 2010.
Mr Morrison, a former Tourism Australia managing director, became leader last August after the party ousted Malcolm Turnbull following a bruising internal battle instigated by the party's hardline conservative wing.
Mr Morrison, 51, has run a disciplined campaign, largely attempting to focus on his two strengths: the electorate's belief that the Liberal party's economic credentials are better than Labor's, and his status as the preferred prime minister.
He has attacked Labor's plans to increase taxes for property investors and those on higher incomes, and has attempted to present the election as a direct choice between himself and Mr Shorten.
In one of his final pitches on Friday, Mr Morrison said Mr Shorten planned to impose taxes that would undermine the "aspirations of Australians".
"That's the choice at this election," he told reporters.
"A choice between a government that understands and appreciates and celebrates the aspirations of Australia... Or a Labor Party, who knows they can't manage money and that's why they come after yours."
In contrast, Mr Shorten, a 52-year-old former union leader, has - unlike Mr Morrison - largely shared the spotlight with his fellow frontbenchers and pointed to the strength of Labor's "team".
He has attacked the coalition for pandering to big business and the wealthy, and for lacking a credible plan to tackle climate change.
"Our political opponents stand where they always have stood - against change, against progress, and are servants to the same vested interests - the big banks and big business," he said at a campaign rally on Thursday.
Labor has adopted a relatively bold agenda, seeking to use its proposed tax increases to lift spending on health, childcare and education.
In contrast, the coalition has largely avoided proposing ambitious reforms and focused on the personality contest between Mr Morrison and Mr Shorten.
Political commentator Michelle Grattan said Mr Shorten's agenda was Labor's most ambitious in more than 40 years.
In contrast, she said, the coalition had not presented a "comprehensive blueprint... just a hungry PM on display".
"Morrison's campaign has been all about the negatives, why this is 'not the time for change', conjuring up fears about what Labor's tax agenda would bring," she wrote on The Conversation website.
"It's been focused on caution, the need for people to avoid the unknown in uncertain times."
The vote on Saturday will also determine the make-up of the 76-member Senate.
Neither side is expected to gain a majority but the chamber will include up to nine Members of Parliament from the Greens as well as candidates from small parties such as Pauline Hanson's anti-migrant One Nation party and tycoon Clive Palmer's United Australia Party.
The Senate results will be crucial because the chamber can potentially block significant legislation proposed by the ruling party.
This means that Labor, even if it wins, may struggle to introduce its tax measures, which would then leave it unable to deliver its spending on social services.
The election on Saturday comes just two days after the death of popular former Labor prime minister Bob Hawke. Both Mr Shorten and Mr Morrison paid tribute to him on Friday.
Mr Hawke's wife Blanche d'Alpuget told Mr Shorten: "There's nothing that would make Bob happier than Labor winning the election. So go out and do it."