SUNDAY, February 25, 2024

"The devil I know or the devil I don't know": Australians split on election choice

"The devil I know or the devil I don't know": Australians split on election choice

Australians remain split on their election choice just days out from the national poll, with voters highlighting the rising cost of living, climate change and the unpopularity of Prime Minister Scott Morrison as key electoral issues.

With Australia going to the polls on Saturday (May 21), polls released on Wednesday (May 18) showed Morrison's Liberal-National coalition losing narrowly to centre-left Labor, led by Anthony Albanese, ending nine years of conservative government.

Rising living costs have dominated the final stretches of the campaign with voters rating it as the most critical issue in some polls.

Australian wage growth ticked up by only a fraction last quarter, Wednesday's data showed, even as a tightening labour market and record vacancies heightened competition for workers. But consumer price inflation has risen twice as fast as wages, keeping real income in the red.

Adding to cautious instincts on both sides ahead of the election, leaders are leery of spooking voters with talk of major policy shifts at a time when pandemic, war, inflation, climate change, and an increasingly assertive China have left voters keen for reassuring voices.

Paul Georgiou, co-owner of Bondi Surf Seafoods, said Morrison had his vote, believing he handled the COVID pandemic better than what Albanese could have done.

"Should I keep the devil I know or the devil I don't know and I think I'm going to go with the devil I know," he told Reuters.

Among criticisms of Morrison in his time in office since August 2018 have been his handling of bushfires that killed 24 people and left thousands homeless. He took a family holiday to Hawaii in December 2019 during the crisis, for which he apologised.

His popularity recovered briefly as COVID-19 hit but resumed its slide from mid-2020, Newspoll shows, due to his responses to shortfalls of COVID-19 vaccines and then rapid antigen tests, as well as allegations of sexual abuse and discrimination against women in parliament.

Morrison acknowledged last Friday (May 13) about being a "bulldozer" but said he would change after the election.

"I don't like Morrison's aggressiveness and I certainly don't like his lying," Sydney voter Robert McDonald said after voting early.

"He's the worst liar - I've been following politics since I could vote and he's the worst liar I've ever seen in the position of prime minister."

But McDonald has not been overly impressed with Albanese's performance either, with local media seizing on the Opposition Leader's stumbles on policy details and him forgetting the national unemployment rate on the first day of the six-week campaign.

Rising numbers of climate-concerned voters in affluent parts of Sydney and Melbourne have meanwhile embraced environment-focused independent candidates in traditionally conservative seats, prompting speculation that neither party may win an outright majority and raising the prospect of another minority government.

With a rising number of public attacks on Morrison’s character from within his party and international leaders, voters are questioning whether they can trust their leaders and the support for a federal Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) is rising, especially after Morrison failed to follow through on his 2019 election promise to legislate an anti-corruption commission.

All Australian states and territories have an integrity commission, leaving the federal government the only government in the country to not have one.

Other issues raised by voters include better healthcare and education funding.

Nearly 6 million voters out of an electorate of 17 million have already cast their ballots through postal votes or early in-person voting, official data showed on Wednesday. An additional 1.1 million postal votes have been received so far versus the 2019 election.