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BBC (Australia) Election News: PM Scott Morrison calls poll for 21 May
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called a federal election for 21 May.
Mr Morrison’s ruling coalition holds 76 seats in the House of Representatives – the minimum needed to retain power.
Polls suggest there will be a change of government, with the opposition Labor Party, led by Anthony Albanese, tipped to take office.
However, in the last election, the centre-right Mr Morrison won despite most polls predicting otherwise.
Mr Morrison announced the date after talks with the Governor General in the capital, Canberra.
“It’s a choice between a strong future and an uncertain one. It’s a choice between a government you know and a Labor opposition that you don’t,” the prime minister said on Sunday.
But Mr Albanese – pointing out Mr Morrison’s own deputy prime minister called him “a hypocrite and a liar” – argued that “we can and must do better”.
“The pandemic has given us the opportunity to imagine a better future and Labor has the policies and plans to shape that future,” he said on Sunday.
Mr Morrison is the first leader to serve a full term in office since John Howard, who won four elections before losing to Labor’s Kevin Rudd in 2007.
Since then, what observers call the “coup culture” of Australian politics has led to a series of short-lived premierships.
Mr Morrison’s Liberal-led coalition is defending a one-seat majority. Even though it has won seven of the past nine federal elections, it may be hard-pressed to do so again, say political analysts.
In recent weeks, the prime minister has faced accusations of being a bullyand once sabotaging a rival’s career by suggesting the man’s Lebanese heritage made him less electable. Mr Morrison has denied the allegations.
But despite the most recent polling putting Labor ahead, Mr Albanese has called his opponents the “favourites”, noting his party has only won government from opposition three times since World War Two.
ABC (Election) News Morrison is galloping into a race where he is already a furlong behind his patient rival
Scott Morrison asked Australians to vote for him in 2019 because he wasn’t Bill Shorten. It worked a treat.
Too well, it turns out, because three years later Shorten’s successor is returning the compliment, even if he does not say it.
Anthony Albanese wants Australians to vote for him because he is not Morrison.
However, unlike Shorten, Albanese is not making the error of thinking that an opposition can win government, as opposed to the incumbent losing it.
Albanese is more patient than Shorten. Greater time in parliament has taught him patience, which in politics, it must be said, is a characteristic rarer than modesty.
The Labor leader knows that the better-trodden route to the treasury benches is to fan the flames of voter rejection. Catch up on all the news about the 2022 Australian federal election from in our blog
And, with the Morrison government, those flames have been burning bright of late, aided by the Prime Minister’s missteps and his cannibalistic state branch.
The NSW Liberals have been expertly tending the tinder and a bonfire rages.
Albanese will likely become the 31st prime minister if the 2022 federal election becomes a referendum on Morrison. The PM needs voters to hesitate before making a conscious choice.
Sensing voters are willing to walk away from Morrison, Albanese needs them unperturbed about taking that extra step towards him. Which is why the Labor leader is offering himself as the safe change option.
Morrison will seek to hobble Albanese over the next six weeks by stoking doubts about the Labor leader’s capacity and authenticity.
Sensing Albanese has not done enough to define himself, Morrison will seek to do it for him, in a bid to frighten the hell out of voters about the fellow in the red corner.
So prepare for a viciously personal tale of two leaders, each story told by the other.
Boiled down, it’ll be a contest between character and experience, between an expert strategist and a master projectionist.
Morrison marketed himself in 2019 as the reliable, hardworking homebody, a curry-loving, footy-obsessed commoner who wore his ordinariness as a friendly cloak. He comes to the 2022 contest a better-known and less-flattering quantity.
Three years of calamity — bushfires, a pandemic and floods — have beamed him into households more than any prime minister in living memory. Judgements have been made about him.
In recent months, Morrison has been traduced by foe and supposed political allies, by a former Liberal PM, the now Nationals leader, a blue blood premier — although Gladys Berejiklian claims she has “no recollection” of the critique — and even the French President.
These assessments — untrustworthy, a liar and bully — handicap Morrison in a race where he’s already a furlong behind.
However, if the campaign becomes a question about experience, about the known versus the unknown, then the Coalition has some chance of resisting the gravitational forces of unpopularity and ageing government.
‘You might not like him’, the Coalition strategy goes, ‘but look at the lives and livelihoods Morrison saved during the pandemic, look how he’s stood up to Beijing’s coercion and strengthened the American and British alliances through AUKUS’.”
Albanese, a man who has spent much of his adult working life as someone who likes to “fight Tories”, is assuming the pose of a consensus leader who can bridge the gap between boardroom and shop floor, between left and right.
His tone is very different to Shorten’s. Albanese has eschewed the transformational, audacious plans his predecessor took to the 2019 and 2016 elections.
Most significantly, Albanese does not propose an agenda of wealth distribution. He has dumped proposals to curb negative gearing, capital gains tax, franking credits and family trusts.
With the sharp prickles of the Shorten manifesto scythed, Albanese instead promises greater investment in childcare, aged care, housing and TAFE.
His is a pledge for greater social spending, even if the means of paying for it are left uncertain.
To counter doubts on comparisons elsewhere, Albanese talks tough on China and commends higher defence spending.
It is not so much that Albanese has run a small-target strategy, it is that he is yet to reveal Labor’s thinking on the economic reckoning that will be before the nation — whoever wins on May 21.
A trillion-dollar national debt, budgets deeply in the red and a structural deficit that stretches well into the 2030s.
Some of this is the legacy borne out of necessary pandemic response, but the mountainous debt blunts the Liberals’ claim of superior economic management.
Treasury’s best guess, as published in last week’s Budget, is that by 2032, for every $100 of government spending, there’s only $97.35 in the kitty.
Neither side can tell the nation how they might tackle this gap.
But that is an argument both sides will conveniently leave until after the nation votes.
A “complete blank page” or “a bully with no moral compass”? On 21 May, Australians will choose between an opposition leader accused by opponents of being clueless and inexperienced, or an incumbent prime minister who’s fending off allegations of racism and an intimidatory style of leadership.
Scott Morrison’s centre-right government is under pressure, but it’s led by a former marketing executive who’s become a political survivor and defied the polls to win the so-called “miracle” election in 2019.
Remarkably, Mr Morrison is the first Australian prime minister to serve a full term since John Howard. His Labor challenger, Anthony Albanese, presents himself as a measured, gently progressive alternative.
The handling of the pandemic and natural disasters, as well as national security and the environment, will sway voters, but as the cost of living rises, the 21 May poll will ultimately be decided by one dominant issue – the economy.
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