Australia’s conservative prime minister has predicted a close result at elections on Saturday as his rival used a campaign rally to revel in the memory of one of his center-left party’s greatest victories 47 years ago.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison made his final major speech of the campaign at the National Press Club in Canberra on Thursday with a recurring theme that now was not the time to elect a Labor Party government.
Labor leader Bill Shorten chose to make his final campaign pitch in the same western Sydney venue where party hero Gough Whitlam gave what has been remembered as his “It’s Time” speech in 1972. “It’s Time” was also the campaign slogan. Weeks after his speech, Labor won its first federal election victory since 1946 and Whitlam became a reforming prime minister.
Morrison accused Labor of indulging in self-congratulation with the reminder of the Whitlam victory.
“This will be a close election,” Morrison said. “That is not something, I think, anyone was writing two months ago, six months ago, eight months ago.”
“Don’t let anyone tell you that this election is run and done,” Morrison added.
Opinion polls have consistently put Labor ahead of Morrison’s Liberal Party-led coalition. But while the party he leads is popular, Australians have not warmed to the idea of Shorten becoming their next prime minister.
Even though the ruling coalition has lagged behind Labor in opinion polls for the past two years, Shorten has been rated a less popular leader than both Morrison and the prime minister Morrison replaced in a Liberal Party revolt nine months ago, Malcolm Turnbull.
But despite an apparent lack of charisma, most experts expect that the 52-year-old Shorten will lead his party into power for the first time in six years.
On Thursday, Shorten was cheered by hundreds of supporters wearing T-shirts with the slogan “Vote for change. Vote for Labor,” in a raucous hall in the working-class suburb of Blacktown.
“Never has the case for change been more clear or more urgent,” Shorten told the gathering. “Because just as Blacktown tells us the story of the change that Australia voted for back then, it also speaks for why our country should vote for change now.”
Whitlam, who died in 2014, is remembered for sweeping reforms including government-funded universal health care and free university education. But he is also remembered for financial mismanagement that led to his government being fired in 1975 by the Australian governor-general, who represents Australia’s head of state, British Queen Elizabeth II.
By Rod McGuirk for The Associated Press.