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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese during the second leaders' debate of the 2022 federal election campaign at the Nine studio in Sydney, Australia May 8, 2022. Image Credit: REUTERS

Sydney: Australia’s political leaders raced to get their message out to undecided voters in marginal seats on Thursday, two days before a general election, with economic problems dominating the last stretch of a tough campaign.

The election has become too close to call, polls issued on Wednesday showed, as the ruling conservative coalition narrowed the gap with the main opposition Labor Party.

Centre-left Labor has put spiking inflation and slow growth in wages at the forefront of its campaign, while Prime Minister Scott Morrison-led Liberal-National coalition has urged voters to focus on unemployment, at its lowest since 1974.

“People being in jobs is the most important thing that the economy needs,” Morrison said during a campaign stop in Tasmania, just ahead of the release of April unemployment data that showed the jobless rate dipping to 3.9%.

“I’m for higher wages by ensuring that we get unemployment down.” About 67% of voters in a survey released by the Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday supported a higher base pay despite Morrison’s warning that it could strain small businesses and the economy.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has said he would support a proposal to raise the minimum wage by just over 5%.

Inflation has outstripped wage growth putting pressure on family budgets with Morrison blaming the war in Ukraine and COVID-19 lockdowns in China for the surge in living costs.

Ahead of Saturday’s vote, Albanese will make a whirlwind tour through five states as Labor tries to flip 20 marginal seats held by the coalition.

Two polls released on Wednesday suggested the election may go down to the wire with the ruling coalition narrowing the lead with Labor Party and coming within striking distance of retaining power.

“We can take nothing for granted. It could come down to a handful of votes in a handful of seats,” Albanese said in a message to Labor supporters.

Nearly 7% of voters were still undecided, a Guardian poll showed.

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Australia's treasurer Josh Frydenberg (centre R) speaks to a voter at a pre-polling centre in Melbourne on May 12, 2022 as he battles to retain his usually safe seat of Kooyong from independent candidate Monique Ryan in the May 21 general election. Image Credit: AFP

Jobless rate drops

Australia posted its lowest jobless rate in 48 years Thursday, a potential boost two days before federal elections to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is fighting to stay in power.

The unemployment rate dipped to 3.85 per cent in April, the official statistics body said, the lowest level since 1974 - when flared trousers were in fashion and US president Richard Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal.

Australia’s economy created an additional 92,400 full-time jobs in the month, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said.

That helped to trim April’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate from 3.93 percent the previous month.

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Independent candidate Monique Ryan (C) speaks with a voter at a pre-polling centre in Melbourne on May 12, 2022 with Ryan ahead in the polls to defeat Australia's treasurer Josh Frydenberg in the usually safe seat Liberal of Kooyong in the May 21 general election. Image Credit: AFP

Many employers say they are struggling to find staff in the tight jobs market.

“We’re definitely still feeling staff shortages,” said Matt Jenkins, human resources manager at Sydney restaurant group Applejack Hospitality.

“I know for chefs, they can have multiple job offers at a time. And even candidates that we’re speaking to, they’re sitting on offers for weeks while they still canvass the market,” he said.

Bruno Goncalves, co-owner of Edes Restaurant and Bar in central Sydney, said he found it particularly hard to recruit experienced staff.

More foreign jobseekers were becoming available, he said, since the re-opening of Australia’s international borders, which were shuttered for nearly two years to keep out the Covid-19 virus.