News Election 2016 Decision time: Election day 2016 is finally here
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Decision time: Election day 2016 is finally here

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Australians are now having to decide whom they trust to run the country for three more years.

If, as polls consistently indicate, there is around a 2.5 per cent to 3 per cent swing to Bill Shorten’s Labor Party, Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition will be returned to power with a reduced majority.

By about 7.30 pm Saturday the voting trends emerging from the booth by booth count of 150 Australian Electoral Commission returning officers should become clear.

The other big “if” in determining the outcome will be the reportedly record high “others” vote predicted by the pollsters – the Greens, independents, minor parties, but more particularly an emerging fourth force, NXT – the Nick Xenophon Team – which is standing candidates in targeted Coalition and Labor seats in all states.

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While the Greens usually attract progressive Labor voters through climate change and humanitarian policies, NXT with its “toxic politics” protest could turn the heads of Liberal loyalists in the Senate but also in some South Australian lower house seats.

Bill Shorten is vying to become the country's fifth prime minister in three years.
Bill Shorten is vying to become the country’s fifth prime minister in three years. Photo: AAP

On Friday Mr Shorten maintained his “protect Medicare” message with polling booths expected to be draped with huge banners on Saturday.

Mr Turnbull remained on his “stability versus hung parliament chaos” message for his campaign appearances in western Sydney, but with one glitch.

In trying to reassure Sunrise viewers that Medicare was safe under the Coalition he left a declarative “absolutely” open to interpretation.

Asked by Samantha Armytage to give an assurance that people would not have to pay more to see the doctor because of the freeze on the GP rebate, Mr Turnbull said:

“Sam, absolutely. And bulk billing is at its all-time high. The freeze in the Medicare indexation to the Medicare rebate was started by Labor in 2013. We have continued it in order to ensure that we have more money to put into other areas of health.”

After Labor seized on “absolutely” as an apparent election-eve commitment – or lie – on doctors’ bills, Mr Turnbull later had to clarify his remarks.

The government had no control over what doctors would charge above the bulk-billing rate but doctors’ fees would not rise as a result of any government policy.

The glitch gave Mr Shorten’s “Mediscare” tactic some air play in the final hours of the campaign. With Mr Turnbull denouncing Mr Shorten as a bald-faced liar.

The Labor leader has tried to mount a case that a freeze on GP, X-ray and pathology rebates amounted to privatisation by stealth through increasing the user pays components of Medicare. Labor has promised to unfreeze the GP rebate.

On balance Turnbull … or Shorten?

Australia’s newspapers and major online news websites have issued their how-to-vote views to their audiences.

All News Corp publications around Australia appear to have recommended a vote for the Coalition, with The Australian [paywall] leading the way.

The Guardian Australia website assessed Labor’s policies as fiscally responsible and recommended a Labor vote.

Fairfax’s The Sunday Age similarly has advised readers to opt for a Labor vote, while its Sydney Morning Herald has produced an “on balance Turnbull” verdict.

The New Daily remains non-partisan, leaving voters to make up their own minds without the necessity for gratuitous advice.

Democracy at work

After a 55-day campaign, 15.6 million enrolled voters will determine the next government of Australia.

Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull do some last minute campaigning in Burwood, Sydney.
Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull do some last minute campaigning in Burwood, Sydney. Photo: AAP

Many have already voted at pre-polling booths or through postal voting. The AEC is waiting to see if the pre-poll vote exceeds 2013’s 27 per cent in pre-polls.

A total of 994 candidates are standing for 150 House of Representatives seats, while 631 have nominated for the Senate.

Because of the double dissolution Senate election, the lower proportional representation quotas required give minor parties a better chance of taking a seat through preferences.

This has raised the prospect of NXT winning a number of Senate seats in South Australia because of its expected high primary vote, while Pauline Hanson in Queensland, Jacqui Lambie in Tasmania, Derryn Hinch in Victoria and Fred Nile in New South Wales are also in contention.

The 2016 federal election is a race to 76 seats to form majority executive government in the House of Representatives.

With a 21-seat notional buffer after a redistribution, the Coalition’s re-election strategy has been based on the discreet charm of former merchant banker Malcolm Turnbull. After he replaced Tony Abbott as PM in September last year Mr Turnbull’s once soaring popularity has plummeted. But consistently he remains more preferred to lead Australia than the former trade union organiser, Mr Shorten.

While a charismatic leader should be a great advantage, such is the electorate’s disaffection with major parties now tracked by pollsters, any personality cult bonus could be limited.

If Mr Turnbull pulls off the 2016 election he will have reached a personal goal to lead Australia as the head of a party which once rejected his leadership by just one vote.

What a comeback that would be.

TV coverage times:

ABC
News Breakfast Election Special at 6am, ABC News 24 throughout the day, Australia Votes: News Special 4pm.

Network 10
No election coverage scheduled yet.

Channel Seven
Federal Election 2016 (including Seven News) 5pm

Nine Network
Election 2016: Australia decides (including Nine News) 5pm

Sky News
Rolling coverage begins 5am Saturday, Election 2016: The Verdict 6pm Saturday

SBS
Vote 2016: SBS World News 10:30pm