Political climate change: Australian leaders make last pitch to voters

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s political leaders on Thursday made their last big pitch to voters ahead of a May 18 election, with the opposition Labor leader calling for generational change and conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison promising economic stability. In contrasting campaigns, Labor leader Bill Shorten offered voters an egalitarian dream and reform agenda, saying “It’s Time” for a change, while Morrison warned a change to Labor would risk the nation’s long-held economic prosperity. While Morrison’s re-election prospects have been lifted by tightening polls after early fears he would lose decisively, Labor is still on track to end six years of conservative rule. An Essential Poll for The Guardian newspaper on Thursday showed Labor ahead of Morrison’s coalition government by a margin of 51.5-48.5 on a two-party preferred basis where votes are distributed until a winner is declared. Both Morrison and Shorten have campaigned urgently since the election was called last month, squeezing in trips to the outback north and island south, along with obligatory big city tours. On Thursday, Morrison delivered his last major campaign speech in Canberra, while Shorten gave his in Sydney. The opposing candidates begged voters to see Saturday’s ballot as essentially a fight between Morrison’s aspirations and Shorten’s reforms. “I will burn for you everyday, every single day, so you can achieve your ambitions, your aspirations, your desires. That is what’s at the top of my agenda,” said Morrison. While Morrison promised stability, Shorten promised “real change”, reducing inequality through tax reform, higher wages and better public infrastructure. “Our political opponents stand where they always have stood – against change, against progress, and are servants to the same vested interests – the big banks and big business,” Shorten said. CLIMATE CHANGE Climate change policy has consistently polled as one of the most significant issues this election, prompting a movement in marginal seats to remove government hard-right politicians who champion coal-fired power. “I promise that we will send a message to the world, that when it comes to climate change Australia is back in the fight,” said Shorten. “We will take this emergency seriously, and we will not just leave it to other countries or to the next generation.” If Labor wins it plans to cut carbon emissions by 45 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 and reach 50 percent renewable power by 2030. Morrison’s coalition has committed to a 26 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 under the Paris Accord, but some in his government question the need for that and the coalition remains staunchly in favour of coal-fired power in Australia. Morrison’s Liberal-led coalition and centre-left Labor are vying for a majority share of 151 lower house seats to form government. There are also 76 Senate spots which determine how difficult it will be for the next government to enact policy. While Morrison, who took over as prime minister last year amid party infighting, has kept the government within reach of an election upset, his path to victory remains narrow. “Realistically, Morrison will require everything to go right,” said Chris Salisbury, professor of political science at the University of Queensland. “He will need a number of surprising results, and the polls show this is unlikely.” ECONOMIC FIGHT Morrison has tied his campaign to economic management, after announcing in April the government would deliver the country’s first surplus in more than a decade. But the promise of economic stability has been partially undermined by stagnant wage rises, high costs of living and falling house prices. Shortly before Morrison delivered his Canberra speech, Australia’s unemployment rate rose to the highest in eight months. Labor, a party with deep ties to the union movement, has promised to abolish several property and share investment tax concessions primarily aimed at Australia’s wealthiest. It has been able pledge bigger budget surpluses, while also ramping up spending on health and education, which directly challenges the government’s re-election platform.

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