Sydney: Historic bushfires, floods, a pandemic and now soaring prices: Australians have a lot to worry about before voting in May 21 federal elections.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is fighting to stay in power and fend off opposition Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese, who is ahead in the opinion polls.
These are five battlefields where the Australian election is being fought:
Inflation is running hot at a 20-year high of 5.1 percent as prices soar at gasoline stations, in shops and for housing - an average home in Sydney now goes for Aus$1.5 million (US$1.0 million).
Adding to the pain for borrowers, the central bank raised interest rates this month for the first time in 20 years.
Morrison says rising prices are a global phenomenon and Australia is doing better than most countries. And his conservative Liberal-National Party government has slashed the state fuel excise for six months.
Albanese scoffs that Morrison’s cost-cutting measures are like “a fake tan - they disappear once people have cast their vote”. But he, too, will let the state fuel excise cut expire.
Albanese has vowed to support a rise in minimum wages to keep up with the cost of living. He also promises to “fix” aged care with more nurses and better pay for nursing home staff.
Australia’s 2019-2020 “Black Summer” bushfires and subsequent deadly east coast floods have highlighted the consequences of climate change.
But Morrison has vowed to mine and export coal for as long as there are buyers and touted a “gas-fired recovery” from the pandemic. He has also resisted global calls to cut carbon emissions faster than the current commitment of up to 28 percent by 2030.
Labor promises to upgrade the grid, boost renewables, promote electric cars and commit to a 43-percent cut in greenhouse gases by 2030. But it makes no promise to phase out coal or ban new coal mines.
Morrison takes credit for Australia’s robust post-pandemic economic recovery, with a jobless rate of just four percent.
Australia’s closure of international borders and individual states’ strict lockdowns helped to curb Covid-19-linked deaths to just over 7,500 so far in a country of 26 million.
Morrison is widely credited with spending huge sums to protect jobs and the economy.
But he has been criticised by the opposition for a sluggish rollout of vaccines and self-administered rapid antigen tests.
When reporters asked French President Emmanuel Macron if he thought Morrison had lied to him over a French submarine contract from which Australia abruptly withdrew, he replied: “I don’t think. I know.”
Australia’s leader denies the allegation but has faced similar criticism at home.
A leaked 2021 text message from the man who is now deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, said Morrison was a “hypocrite and a liar”, adding that he had “never trusted him”.
Morrison admitted just eight days before the vote that he had been a “bulldozer” to get things done during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I know there are things that are going to have to change with the way I do things because we are moving into a different time,” he promised.
The prime minister has asked voters to judge him by the job he has done, warning that Albanese is an unreliable “loose unit” on the economy.
Early in the campaign, Albanese forgot both the unemployment rate and the main lending rate. More recently he stumbled in explaining his own disability insurance scheme.
“That doesn’t sound like someone that deserves a second interview, let alone the job,” Morrison quipped.
The prime minister has failed to deliver on his three-year-old promise at the last election to set up a corruption-fighting federal integrity commission.
Morrison has blamed the opposition for not supporting his proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission, which has been criticised as toothless.
The Australian leader provoked outrage among supporters of the state of New South Wales’ independent corruption watchdog - which some have proposed as a model for a federal body - by describing it as a “kangaroo court”.
Labor’s Albanese has promised to set up a “powerful” national anti-corruption body as a priority if elected.