Australians will be voting for a new Parliament, and possibly, their fourth Prime Minister in six years this weekend. Liberal incumbent Scott Morrison and Labor leader Bill Shorten have been neck and neck throughout the campaign. However, Aussies don’t seem to like either one of them, with up to a quarter unable to state a preference in the polls. Yet, voting is compulsory Down Under, so they’ll have to vote for one of them.
Australians go to the polls much more often than in other Westminster democracies, at every three years. Still, the frequent changes in party and national leadership have made the country something of an international joke.
Scott Morrison was seen as a compromise choice last August, when internal Liberal turmoil toppled Malcolm Turnbull. Three years before that, Turnbull became PM after Liberal MPs got sick of Tony Abbott. Even the Liberals’ partners in the center-right Coalition, the Nationals, have a new leader, after fallout from an extramarital affair forced Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce from office. The former Immigration Minister, “ScoMo” has pledged to keep the economy strong, slash the national debt, and cut taxes.
Instability isn’t particularly unique to the Liberal Party. The Prime Minister’s office changed hands twice, between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard and back again, the last time Labor were in control. At just under six years, Shorten’s tenure represents a period of unprecedented stability. The former head of the Australian Workers’ Union, Shorten has led narrowly but consistently in polls since the last general election in 2016. If elected, Shorten and Labor have pledged to tackle climate change, raise taxes on the wealthy, and increase funding for hospitals and schools.
It’s perhaps not surprising that Australia’s decade-long, twin leadership soap operas have obscured the issues in this campaign, and turned voters off. Some 40% of voters told the Australian National University they were unhappy with Australia’s democracy at the last election. Australians use a ranked-choice ballot to elect their members, and a postwar record number cast their first preference votes for other parties. Five members of minor parties, including the Greens, will be defending their seats in the 150-member House. What’s more, a third of the vote went to parties other than Labor or the Coalition in the zoo known as the Australian Senate.
Through it all, Australia’s economy remains steady, but slowing. The country hasn’t even had a recession in more than 20 years. That streak may be in jeopardy, however, with China and America, fighting a potentially protracted trade war. For those interested in America willing to get up early to watch, the first polls will close at 4 a.m. Eastern on Saturday. The ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) will trot out Antony Green, the network’s resident psephologist, to break down the marginal seats and analyze the results. Someone has to win on Saturday.