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Australia election

Australians cast ballots in vote to pick new prime minister

Labor has a lead in opinion polls, but the conservative coalition is closing gap

Voters cast their ballots on the morning of the federal election at a Bondi Beach polling station in Sydney on Saturday.   © Reuters

SYDNEY -- Australian voters are casting ballots in a federal election on Saturday to pick their next government, with polls indicating a tight race between Prime Minister Scott Morrison's conservative coalition and Anthony Albanese's Labor Party.

An Ipsos poll, published in The Australian Financial Review on Thursday, shows that Labor's primary vote has fallen to 36%, while the Morrison government is up three points to 35%.

More than 17 million Australians age 18 or older are enrolled to vote in elections for 151 lower house seats and 40 of the 76 Senate positions. Voting is compulsory, and those who don't cast ballots will face a penalty of 20 Australian dollars ($14).

Polling stations are open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sydney time. Preliminary counting of votes begins as soon as they close, and the results for the lower house -- the winner of which will form the government -- will probably be known by late Saturday or early Sunday.

Depending on how tight the race is, and how many people voted early or by post, indications of the overall result could come within hours. In the previous federal election of 2019, 40.8% of voters cast their ballots at early voting centers or by mail.

The Liberal-National coalition currently holds 76 seats -- a majority of one in the 151-seat House of Representatives. Labor has 68, and cross-bench members of parliament have seven.

Bookmakers make Labor the favorite to win after nine years of conservative rule. The Totalisator Agency Board puts Labor's odds at 1.50, while the coalition was 2.65 as of Friday. This means a bet of AU$100 would give you AU$150 if Labor won and AU$265 should the coalition be victorious. The odds were at 1.30 for Labor, and 3.60 for the coalition on Tuesday. The odds on a hung parliament are 2.30.

But in the 2019 election, the coalition defied the odds to claim victory. And Morrison is playing this up.

"Mr. Albanese, he seems to think this election is already done," Morrison told reporters on Wednesday in Geelong, a port city in the southeastern state of Victoria.

After voting, it is a tradition for Australians to eat "democracy" sausages. (Photo by Rurika Imahashi)

The campaign was focused on the rising cost of living, housing and the economy. The conservatives stress that they are better placed to manage the economy. "Labor doesn't know how to manage money. That's why there's such a risk to you and your family and the cost-of-living pressures that you will face," Morrison said.

Labor has countered Morrison's argument by floating the idea of raising the minimum wage by at least 5.1% to keep up with inflation.

Since Morrison became prime minister in 2018, he has been accused of poor crisis management of issues such as deadly wildfires, floods and the COVID vaccine rollout. According to a Newspoll survey on the candidates' character traits, 60% of Australians said Morrison was arrogant.

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