Recent opinion polls have put the opposition Australian Labor Party led by Anthony Albanese ahead of the Liberal Party of Australia led by incumbent PM Scott Morrison.
Australians are set to go to the polls following a six-week campaign that has focused on pandemic-fuelled inflation, climate change and fears of a Chinese military outpost being established off Australia’s shore.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative coalition is seeking a rare fourth three-year term with the election on Saturday.
Recent opinion polls have put Labor narrowly ahead of the coalition. And minor parties and independents could attract nearly a third of voters, according to some polls, raising the prospect of a minority government.
The government changed voting regulations on Friday to enable thousands of people who have recently been infected with Covid-19 to vote by phone.
“Making this change this late in the process is not without risk, but we think it’s worthwhile, particularly given the community sentiment,” Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said.
Rogers said some polling booths would be closed on Saturday because many of the 105,000 election workers were sick with the virus or flu. Army reservists have been asked to fill in.
'Worst foreign policy failure'
Incumbent Morrison began campaigning in April by urging voters to stick with a government that delivered one of the lowest pandemic death tolls of any advanced economy rather than risk the opposition centre-left Labor Party.
The pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine have pushed up costs of living and cast doubt on the conservatives’ boast of being better economic managers than Labor.
Labor has also taken aim at the government’s foreign policy credentials after China and the Solomon Islands confirmed during the election campaign they had finalised a bilateral security pact.
Labor described it as Australia’s worst foreign policy failure in the Pacific since World War II. Australia already has a security pact with the Solomons and is the nation’s most generous provider of foreign aid.
Senior government lawmakers have said the timing of the China-Solomons agreement during an election campaign is evidence that Beijing was attempting to undermine the ruling coalition’s prospects for re-election.
The government maintains that Beijing wants a change of leadership because a Labor administration would be less likely to stand up against Chinese economic coercion.