AFP — Australia heads to the polls Saturday with a suave multi-millionaire former banker vowing only he can ensure stability in the wake of the Brexit vote for a nation used to a revolving door of prime ministers.
Malcolm Turnbull (pictured above), 61, became Australia’s fourth leader in just over two years when he ousted fellow Liberal Tony Abbott in September — and he has jumped on Britain’s decision to leave the European Union to bolster his position.
Brexit illustrated how “critical it is that we maintain strong, stable leadership”, he said, adding that his Labor opponent Bill Shorten, 49, would not provide that.
“Now more than ever we need confidence, we need investment, we need employment, we need stability, we need leadership. And that is what we provide and that is what only we can provide in the choice that Australians face on July 2,” he said this week.
The right-leaning Liberals and centre-left Labor have polled neck and neck for much of a lacklustre eight-week campaign as they criss-crossed the country to shore up support in marginal seats.
But last week’s shock decision by Britain has stoked anxiety about pressures facing Australia’s economy, playing more to the Liberal’s focus on “jobs and growth”. A poll on Monday showed Turnbull inching ahead 51-49 percent.
Turnbull has called an election early because crossbenchers — politicians who are independent or from minor parties — hold the balance of power in the upper house Senate.
They have failed to pass deadlocked legislation to overhaul unions which provided the trigger for a double dissolution of parliament, where all seats in the upper and lower houses are contested.
Some predict the upper house could end up with more crossbenchers after the election than before, as voters fed-up with traditional politicians look for alternatives.
– ‘Battle for our generation’ –
Dozens of minor parties and niche candidates are standing on Saturday and political strategist Glenn Druery said they could capitalise on disillusionment with Labor and the Liberals.
“Generally speaking, the votes for minor parties is going up, up, up,” he said, adding that “essentially, people are dissatisfied with the major parties”.
But Nick Economou, who teaches politics at Melbourne’s Monash University, said there is far less public anger toward the current government than Labor’s Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard — both of whom were removed.
“The anger towards those people was palpable,” he said.
Nevertheless, Shorten has been driving home the party’s traditional values of improving health and education while pledging more renewable energy and a fairer tax system.
“What we’re doing is giving working class people the opportunity to have a good standard of living,” he said, rejecting Turnbull’s definition of stability.
“That’s how you keep a society coherent and united.”
Turnbull has centred his campaign around economic management, arguing the government has the fiscal know-how to oversee the transition from Australia’s mining investment boom to one that is more diverse and creates new jobs.
He has also highlighted the government’s immigration policies that have stopped asylum-seeker boats and pledged to hold a plebiscite on gay marriage as soon as possible.
The Greens — viewed as the third party in Australian politics — have been campaigning on inequality, climate change and asylum-seekers.
Voting is mandatory in Australia for all adults, with turnout never falling below 90 percent since it became compulsory in 1924.