Here’s why this election matters.
Australians are heading to the polls today to choose a new government. Here’s the key question:
Will the country, a vital American ally in the Asia-Pacific, keep its rightward path and re-elect the current conservative coalition? Or will voters choose change and the promise of greater action on climate change, along with more government intervention in the economy and the social safety net?
The two candidates at the top of the major-party tickets are both well known to Australians and (according to polls) not much beloved.
Bill Shorten, 52, the opposition leader, is a lawyer and former trade union official.
He leads the center-left Labor Party and ran a campaign focused on making government more interventionist — not necessarily in the sense of spending, but on behalf of workers, aiming to lift wages and close tax loopholes benefiting investors and wealthy retirees.
Scott Morrison, 51, is the incumbent prime minister, and a former immigration minister and treasurer.
He leads the business-friendly Liberal Party (which is actually conservative), and he has been emphasizing stability, arguing that a Labor win would lead to economic chaos, and possibly the first recession in 27 years.
Polls indicated a close race, although Mr. Morrison was trailing. — Damien Cave
What are the major issues?
The economy: Polls show that voters are most concerned about the rising cost of living, especially housing. Wages have been stagnant for years, even as the economy has grown.
Climate change: Australia is more vulnerable to climate change than any other developed country, but for more than a decade, Parliament has struggled to enact a comprehensive energy and emissions reduction plan. The conservative coalition has proposed a climate solutions fund to help farmers and businesses; the opposition has promised to reduce pollution and expand renewable energy.
Social safety net: Health care, pensions and other elements of Australia’s social safety net are also of major concern to voters. Cutbacks by the conservative government have led to questions about what to prioritize: benefits for older voters, who tend to vote Liberal, or younger voters, who tend to support Labor.
To catch up on some of the broader issues at stake, here’s some of our recent coverage:
Labor makes a final pitch for a fair economy and action on climate change.
Bill Shorten, the Labor Party leader, voted in his hometown, Melbourne, this morning, and answered questions on morning television.
He said he was “confident there is a mood to vote for real change,” and he highlighted the two issues he thought would turn the election in his favor: the economy and climate change.
“At the moment in Australia, the rich are getting richer, but the middle class are getting squeezed and those on fixed incomes are just falling behind,” he said.
“I have a different economic plan for Australia,” he continued. “My view is that if everyone, men and women, people in the bush, people in the city, the young and the old, all get an equal go, then what happens is — that’s a rising tide that lifts all boats.”
He also said that “we’ve got to take action on climate change.” — Damien Cave
There’s a reason the system gives fringe parties a shot.
On their ballot sheets voters will see candidates from a confounding number of minor parties with agendas such as internet activism, vaccine opposition, marijuana legalization and even xenophobia. And some have a decent chance of getting into Parliament.
Since 1918, the country has employed a preferential voting system: Voters rank the candidates they prefer from most to least, rather than simply checking a box for their first preference.
Candidates must get more than 50 percent of the total vote to be elected to the House of Representatives, where the majority party forms a government. To achieve this, candidates with the fewest votes are eliminated and the votes on those ballots are redistributed according to preference, a process that is repeated until a winner is produced.
In the Senate, candidates must receive a certain proportion of votes to be elected.
The system is designed to make sure that votes are not wasted, but it has also given minor parties more footing, experts say. Some have struck back-room deals with major parties that agree to give them preference in their “how to vote” guides.
While election analysts say that new rules adopted in 2016 may lead to a winnowing of these fringe players, some are still likely to be elected to the Senate through “protest” votes against the major parties. In the House of Representatives, the race seems likely to be close, meaning major parties are relying on their preference choices of minor groups to get them over the line.
What it all adds up to: If Australia ends up with a minority government, a conservative coalition might find itself beholden to populists and xenophobes, and a Labor coalition might have to make nice with marijuana legalizers and anti-vaxxers. — Livia Albeck-Ripka
The fallout from Malcolm Turnbull’s ouster may resonate.
The forced departure of Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister in August 2018 has had repercussions for his center-right Liberal Party that are likely to be felt in several races on Saturday.
The seat Mr. Turnbull vacated in Wentworth was won in a by-election in October by an independent, Kerryn Phelps. She is now in a tough rematch with the Liberal candidate she defeated, Dave Sharma.
The swing in votes to the independent was largely viewed as a result of voters’ annoyance with the Liberal Party for its treatment of Mr. Turnbull. Now that the anger has subsided, many Liberal voters are expected to return to the fold.
Another candidate who lost his job as a Liberal prime minister, Tony Abbott, is facing a strong challenge for his seat in Warringah by Zali Steggall, a lawyer and Australia’s only Olympic medalist in Alpine skiing, who is running as an independent.
Ms. Steggall has described Mr. Abbott as a “massive hand brake on our policies on climate.” Mr. Abbott helped complicate Mr. Turnbull’s efforts to find consensus on energy policy, helping to bring about his ouster.
Peter Dutton, who led the revolt against Mr. Turnbull last year, is in a tight race in his electorate, Dickson, against the Labor candidate, Ali France. Mr. Dutton is deeply unpopular as the country’s top immigration official for appearing to issue visas on a subjective basis. — Jamie Tarabay
Seats in Tasmania are seen as a bellwether.
On the island of Tasmania, a few races may signal the ultimate outcome of the federal election.
Two seats, in Braddon and Bass, are seen as “volatile” since no party has been able to hold on to them for long. In the last national election, in 2016, the Liberal Party lost those two seats and a third one in Tasmania. The fate of Labor Party candidates in Tasmania may be a national bellwether.
Another Tasmanian race worth paying attention to is the one in Clark, where an independent, Andrew Wilkie, has held the seat since wresting it from the Labor Party in 2010.
Mr. Wilkie is a former intelligence officer who quit in protest over Australia’s decision to join the United States in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. If he wins, he is likely to have a significant role in the next government if neither the Labor Party nor the conservative coalition of the Liberal and National parties garners enough votes to govern alone. — Jamie Tarabay