Australians are being offered a choice between a government that made mistakes but got the big calls right and an opposition promising a “better future” at a May 21 federal election.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison called upon Governor-General Sir David Hurley on Sunday morning to initiate a longer-than-usual six-week campaign before the national poll.
Mr Morrison’s pitch to voters, delivered shortly after his courtesy call at Government House, was heavy on warnings about the dangers of switching parties partway through what he styled as a national economic recovery despite the occasional misstep.
“Our government is not perfect,” Mr Morrison told reporters at Parliament House.
“We’ve never claimed to be, but we are upfront and you may see some flaws, but you can also see what we have achieved for Australia in incredibly difficult times.”
The Prime Minister is campaigning for a fourth consecutive term for the Coalition in an election he framed as a choice between a “strong future and an uncertain one”, with a heavy accent on the classic Coalition theme of economic management.
“We are dealing with a world that is less stable than at any other time than the Second World War,” Mr Morrison said.
“But I believe there are many, many opportunities there to be seized from the strong position we’ve put ourselves in, as a country, as we emerge strongly from this pandemic.
“Now is not the time to risk that.
“This is … a choice between a strong economy and a Labor opposition that would weaken it.”
Mr Morrison took credit for what he claimed were 40,000 lives and some 700,000 jobs saved during the government’s management of the Covid pandemic.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese spoke later on Sunday and ended his much-longer press conference with a pre-campaign invocation of the punk rock band the Ramones: “Hey ho, let’s go”.
“We can and we must do better,” Mr Albanese said.
“The pandemic has given us the opportunity to imagine a better future and Labour has the policies and plans to shape that future.”
Mr Albanese was touchy when responding to questions suggesting he was a creature of the Labor party’s Left, denying Coalition attacks that presented both he and his front-bench team as unknown and untrusted entities.
“People who are members of his cabinet, people who have worked with him like Gladys Berejiklian, at the height of the bushfires, said that he was more interested in politics than he was with people,” the Labor leader said of the Prime Minister.
“That stands in stark contrast with my team. My team is united.”
“We are a great country, but we can be even better if we have a better government.”
Mr Morrison enters the campaign down by a yawning margin of 57 to 43 on a two-party preferred basis in the latest Roy Morgan poll as questions about his character and internal Liberal Party battles have intensified.
But the Prime Minister on Sunday sought to sidestep the issue of his personal popularity, framing the choice before voters as a strict referendum on competence and not character.
Labor deputy leader Richard Marles told ABC’s Insiders that the election would be a “real struggle” despite what the polls may suggest.
Mr Marles repeated criticisms of Mr Morrison’s character that have engulfed the Prime Minister and obscured his generous, pre-election budget.
“The Prime Minister lies,” he said.
“Every time he stands up, he lies.”
Defence Minister Peter Dutton said that attacks on the Prime Minister’s character, many of which have originated from within the Coalition parties, would ultimately not matter to voters.
“The focus starts to sharpen now, once the starter’s gun is fired, I think people realise it’s a two-horse race,” he said.
The Coalition starts the race with 76 seats out of the 151-seat lower house, with Labor on a presumptive 69.
Parliament will be officially prorogued at an official ceremony on Monday at 9.30am.
After an unstable period in Australian politics, Mr Morrison is seeking to be the first Prime Minister to win two elections since John Howard.