Voting closes in Australia’s east as election heads for tight finish

Voters wait to cast their ballots on the morning of May 21 at a Bondi Beach polling station in Sydney. PHOTO: REUTERS
A man casts his vote in Melbourne on May 21 as polling centres open in Australia's federal election. PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (REUTERS) – Voting in Australia’s eastern states closed on Saturday (May 21) with opinion polls showing the opposition Labor Party narrowly ahead of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative coalition, which has ruled for almost a decade.

However, a strong showing by climate-focused independents could result in a hung parliament.

Most of Australia’s people live on its east coast, where polling booths at suburban churches, beachside pavilions and outback halls closed at 6pm (0800 GMT).

The states of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania, and the Australian Capital Territory, account for 124 of the 151 lower house parliamentary seats up for grabs.

Voting was ongoing in South Australia state and the Northern Territory until 0830 GMT and in Western Australia state until 1000 GMT, by which time details of some early vote counts from the eastern states are expected to be known.

Centre-left Labor held a decent lead going into the campaign after nine years in opposition, but recent polls showed Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal-National government narrowing the gap in the final stretch of a tough, six-week campaign.

A Newspoll survey by The Australian newspaper out on election day showed Labor’s lead dipping a point to 53-47 on a two-party-preferred basis against the ruling coalition, largely in line with other election polls.

In-person voting at polling booths in suburban schools, beachside pavilions and outback halls opened at 8am (6am Singapore time) and will close at 6pm (4pm Singapore time).

Mr Morrison and opposition leader Anthony Albanese cast their votes in Sydney late in the morning after making whistle-stop tours across marginal seats in the final two days of a campaign dominated by rising living costs, climate change and integrity.

“Today, Australians are making a big choice about their future,” Mr Morrison told reporters outside the voting centre.

“Australia needs someone who knows how to manage money, knows how to deal with national security interests, knows how to move forward and secure that strong economy.”

Mr Albanese said Australians want a change of government, which he said had nothing “to be proud of”.

“I’ve put us in a position where at worst we’re competitive today. We’re in the hunt here,” Mr Albanese said about his chances at the polls.

“In the fourth quarter, I want to kick with the wind at my back, and I believe we have the wind at our back,” he said in a reference to Australian Rules football, one of the country’s most popular sports.

As Labor focused on spiking inflation and sluggish wage growth, Mr Morrison made the country’s lowest unemployment in almost half a century the centrepiece of his campaign’s final hours. Inflation has risen twice as fast as wages, keeping real income in the red.

Independents' influence

While the economy is a key issue, several “teal independents” are challenging key Liberal-held seats, campaigning for action on climate change after some of the worst floods and fires to hit Australia.

Three volunteers working for teal independent Monique Ryan, who is running against Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in the long-held Liberal seat of Kooyong in Melbourne, said they joined Ryan’s campaign because they are concerned about the climate for the sake of their children or grandchildren.

“For me, it’s like this election actually feels hopeful,”Charlotte Forwood, a working mother of three adult children, told Reuters.

In the outgoing parliament, the Liberal-National coalition held 76 of the 151 lower house seats, while Labor held 68, with seven minor party and independent members.

Voting is compulsory and initial results should be known by Saturday evening, although the Australian Electoral Commission has flagged a clear winner may not immediately emerge if it is a close contest due to the time required to count about 3 million postal votes.

More than half of votes had already been cast by Friday evening, with a record 8 million early in-person and postal votes, the Australian Electoral Commission said.

A time difference of two hours between the east and west coasts means voting centres in Western Australia will still be open as the initial counts start coming from the populous east coast states, which have 124 of the lower house’s 151 seats.

Remote video URL

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.