SYDNEY: Polls opened in Australia's federal election on Saturday (May 21), with Prime Minister Scott Morrison fighting for another three-year term that would extend a decade of conservative rule.
Long queues formed in several stations, as Morrison - behind in pre-election polls - accused his rival Anthony Albanese of "hubris" in predicting a centre-left Labor win.
"You can't get ahead of yourself," said Morrison, in a last pre-election pitch to voters.
Albanese has predicted the race will be "close" and promised Australians "some honesty in politics" after Morrison's high-spin style.
People are "over" soundbites, Albanese said, on the eve of the vote, promising to transform Australia's resistance to tackling climate change.
"Give Labor a crack. We have plans for this country," he said. "We have plans to embrace the opportunities that are there from acting on climate change."
Labor held a decent lead going into the campaign after nine years in opposition, but recent polls showed Morrison's Liberal-National government narrowing the gap in the final stretch of a tough, six-week campaign.
A Newspoll survey by The Australian newspaper out on election day showed Labor's lead dipping a point to 53-47 on a two-party-preferred basis against the ruling coalition, largely in line with other election polls.
In-person voting at polling booths in suburban schools, beachside pavilions and outback halls opened at 8am (2200 GMT on Friday) and will close at 6pm (0800 GMT).
"FATIGUED AND TIRED"
Morrison and Opposition leader Anthony Albanese made whistle-stop tours across marginal seats in the final two days of a campaign dominated by rising living costs, climate change, national security and integrity.
As Labor focussed on spiking inflation and sluggish wages growth, Morrison has made the country's lowest unemployment numbers in almost half a century the centrepiece of his campaign's final hours. Inflation has risen twice as fast as wages keeping real income in the red.
Speaking in Adelaide during a four-state election-eve blitz, Albanese welled up as he reflected on his personal journey -- from the son of a single mum living in Sydney public housing to the threshold of the highest office in the land.
"It says a lot about this country," he said Friday, voice cracking with emotion. "That someone from those beginnings... can stand before you today, hoping to be elected prime minister of this country tomorrow."
If elected, Albanese notes he would be the first Australian with a non-Anglo or Celtic surname to be prime minister.
But he is up against a tough campaigner in incumbent Morrison, who defied the polls three years ago in what he termed a "miracle" election.
Speaking in Western Australia, Morrison admitted his compatriots go into election day "fatigued and tired" having endured three years of bushfires, droughts, floods and the coronavirus pandemic.
"I understand that frustration," he said, while pounding out the same message that defied the odds last time: Labor cannot be trusted on the economy.
Morrison has characterised Albanese as a "loose unit" because of his high-profile gaffes, notably forgetting the national jobless rate when quizzed by reporters.
"This is the sort of stuff that prime ministers need to know," Morrison said in an interview Friday as he campaigned in Western Australia.
"We have seen that he is not up to the job and it's bigger than him."
While the economy is a key issue, several so-called "teal independents" are challenging key Liberal held seats, campaigning for action on climate change after some of the worst floods and fires to hit Australia.
In the outgoing parliament, the Liberal-National coalition held 76 of the 151 lower house seats, while Labor held 68, with seven minor party and independent members.
Voting is compulsory and initial results should be known by Saturday evening, although the Australian Electoral Commission has flagged a clear winner may not immediately emerge if it is a close contest due to the time required to count about 3 million postal votes.
More than half of votes had already been cast by Friday evening, with a record 8 million early in-person and postal votes, the Australian Electoral Commission said.
A time difference of two hours between the east and west coasts means voting centres in Western Australia will still be open as the initial counts start coming from the populous east coast states, which have 124 of the lower house's 151 seats.