SYDNEY - Australians vote in a general election on Saturday. The management of the economy has been central in the campaign. It has not been in recession since the early 1990s, but the economy is showing signs of slowing down. The environment is another key concern for voters as the campaign enters its final days.
Money is being pumped into this election campaign like never before. Cash-infused minor parties, including one backed by a billionaire mining tycoon, are competing with the two dominant players: the center-right Liberal-National coalition and the Labor opposition.
“We are seeing expensive elections, said Stewart Jackson from the University of Sydney. "We have been seeing them for some time. I actually think you will see the expenditures go up considerably at this election. There is an awful lot of television advertising, but then also onto Facebook and onto Twitter and onto Instagram and the social media platforms.”
Scott Morrison, the Liberal Party prime minister, is asking voters to trust his management of the economy that is based on a simple philosophy.
“My family story is not uncommon in our country," he said. "Australians quietly going about lives with simple, decent, honest aspirations. Get an education, get a job, start a business, take responsibility for yourself, support others, work hard.”
The economic focus of the opposition Labor leader Bill Shorten is major tax reform.
“We have said that we want multinationals to pay their fair share," he said. "I announced yesterday a new scheme to stop some multinationals treating the Australian tax system as a doormat, which they wipe their boots on coming in and out of Australia.”
For many Australians the environment is their number one concern in this election. A lightning rod for conservationists is the Carmichael mine in Queensland that is proposed by the Indian company, Adani.
It would be one of the biggest coal mines in the world if it goes ahead.
Mary Carroll, who runs a tourism agency in the city of Rockhampton, says the region needs the resources industry.
“There’s seven mines at the moment," she said. "They’re all going through their approvals process at the moment and I think one of the fears out there with all of the talk about one particular mine, the Carmichael mine, is that if it doesn’t proceed, perhaps the others won’t.”
But a Queensland voter, Rochelle Rodier, says the Indian-run project must be rejected.
“Adani is just no! No! No! If Adani opens up, the whole Galilee Basin opens up. Terrible. Disaster for Australia, disaster for the world,” she said.
Australia’s Climate Council, an independent campaign group, is warning that if left unchecked, global warming could wipe more than $2.5 trillion from the domestic economy over the next 80 years.
The council’s chief executive, Amanda McKenzie, says the situation is already dire.
“What this report shows us is that there is a real cost to failing to act. In the last four years, pollution has gone up and up and up in Australia," she said. "At the same time, we have seen mass bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, we have seen nearly 50 C [Celsius] days in some parts of Australia, fruit cooking on trees. There are real costs of failing to act on climate change and that is what we have tried to quantify in this report.”
Sixteen million Australians are eligible to vote. Many yearn for political stability and an end to party infighting in a country where it’s been more than a decade since a prime minister served a full term in office.