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Politics

Five things to know about the Australian election

Polls point to the first change of government since 2013

TOKYO -- Australia's federal election is set for this Saturday, with opinion polls pointing to the likelihood of a change in ruling parties after six years of a conservative coalition government led by the Liberal Party. The opposition Labor Party is aggressively campaigning for big changes on tax and environmental policy, among others.

The election could lead to a change in the country's prime minister barely a year after Malcolm Turnbull resigned last August. There have been four leadership changes in Australia since 2013, hindering consistent decision-making.

Here are five things to know about the election.

What are the main issues in the election?

The ruling coalition, led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, announced a budget in February that it said will produce Australia's first fiscal surplus in 12 years. It is promising a tax cut for more than 10 million low- and middle-income earners, and to invest 100 billion Australian dollars ($69.8 billion) in transport infrastructure. Voters tend to favor the coalition's economic management over that of Labor, but some analysts say past Labor governments have had bad luck, with their previous period in power overlapping with financial crises not of their own making.

Labor, led by Bill Shorten, says it will increase tax revenues and public spending, placing more emphasis on helping ordinary workers and on social justice. It supports the income tax cuts proposed in the government's budget, and promises more tax cuts for low-income and part-time workers. But it plans to end tax breaks for property investors and shareholders. These proposals are contentious and could cost Labor support among voters. The party also wants to close tax loopholes for multinational companies.

Labor is more concerned with climate change than the coalition, which traditionally supports Australia's powerful coal industry. Labor has set a target of zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and plans to implement vehicle emission standards. Depending on how many seats Labor wins, it may need to work closely with the Australian Greens party, which is demanding even stricter environmental policies.

Who is likely to win?

The latest opinion poll by The Australian newspaper and Newspoll on May 12 showed Labor leading the Liberal-National coalition 51% to 49%. Such surveys tend to be accurate, partly because voting is compulsory in Australia. Political jockeying within the Liberal party seems to have weakened its support base.

But the vote is likely to be close. Election watchers say Shorten may be "finding it difficult to sell [controversial policies] to the voters," according to Nicholas Economou, a senior lecturer in politics at Monash University. "The results might be a bit closer than the opinion polls are suggesting."

Who will be the next prime minister?

Morrison heads the Liberal Party and leads a coalition government with the right-wing National Party. Last year, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, who headed the Liberal Party's conservative faction, challenged then-Prime Minister Turnbull for the party leadership. Turnbull resigned and Morrison, who was federal treasurer at the time, emerged the winner. Morrison is a social conservative, best known for devising some of the world's toughest asylum rules when he was immigration minister.

Shorten has headed the Labor Party since 2013, following an election the same year that saw Labor ousted from government. The previous Labor government, which ran from 2007 to 2013, also suffered internal divisions and changes in leadership from Kevin Rudd to Julia Gillard and back to Rudd. Shorten was involved in the infighting throughout, and is fairly unpopular with the public, but has spent the last six years shoring up the party's unity.

What are the parties' stances on immigration?

The Liberal Party traditionally has a tougher stance on border controls. Morrison's government will lower the cap on permanent immigrants into Australia from 190,000 to 160,000 people per year and freeze the country's refugee intake at the current level of 18,750. Labor says it will increase the refugee intake to 27,000 by 2025 to address a humanitarian crisis.

The Liberals claim Labor would "hand control of our borders back to the people smugglers," according to a party statement. However, observers suggest the ruling party has had to tone down its rhetoric on immigration the after Christchurch shootings in New Zealand in March, in which an Australian man carried out an attack on Muslim mosque-goers, killing 50 people.

How will the election affect Australia's ties to other countries?

Experts believe the foreign policy of a Labor government will not differ significantly from that of the coalition. But the Labor Party tends to place greater importance on the Asia-Pacific region and global institutions, according to Michael Wesley, professor of international affairs at the Australian National University.

The next government will have to address the strained relationship with China. Australia was quick to ban Chinese telecom company Huawei from its 5G development, following the U.S. lead. Labor "would try to reestablish dialogue with China," according to Richard McGregor, a senior fellow at the Lowy Institute, a think tank. But the shift is not likely to be as dramatic as, for example, overturning the 5G decision.

If Labor wins the election, Malaysian-born Penny Wong would become Australia's first foreign minister of Asian descent. She has said her first overseas visit as foreign minister would to be to Indonesia and Malaysia. She also vowed that Labor would increase Australia's official development assistance as a percentage of the country's gross national income.

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