Cliff-hanger as Australia goes to polls

IF THE ruling Labor Party wins Australia's general election today, it will mark the country's first step towards becoming a republic. If the opposition Liberal-National coalition wins, radical economic reform is in prospect. As more than 11 million people prepare to vote after a five-week campaign, opinion polls agree only in indicating that the result could be close.

One poll last night gave Paul Keating's government 44.5 per cent, against 45 per cent for the opposition, led by John Hewson. Another poll put Labor ahead of the opposition by two points, just enough to retain power in the House of Representatives, where it has a majority of five. The polls indicate about one-fifth of voters remain uncommitted.

There was no such indecision among Australia's main metropolitan newspapers yesterday. In their pre-vote editorials, nine of the 10 papers called for a change of government. Most agreed that, after a decade in power, and with unemployment at 11 per cent, Labor had run out of steam.

In an editorial which read like a political obituary, the Age, of Melbourne, said Mr Keating would be judged well by history for his dominant role in the restructuring of the Australian economy under Labor during the 1980s. 'The recession brought about a loss of nerve, an uncertainty about the direction in which Australia should be headed.'

The sole pro-Labor voice came from the Telegraph-Mirror, a Sydney tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch, all of whose other papers supported the opposition. The Sydney paper praised Mr Keating for showing 'vision and courage' since becoming Prime Minister after unseating Bob Hawke as Labor leader 15 months ago.

'The Prime Minister deserves the chance to demonstrate his leadership and implement his agenda without the shackles of the past.'

For Mr Keating, the main obstacle to achieving victory today is the figure of 1,052,000 unemployed in a country of 17 million people. This latest monthly figure, announced on Thursday, was a rise of 35,000 on the previous month, and the worst since the Depression.

Mr Keating's promise for a referendum by the end of the decade on Australia becoming a republic won approval. But Australians are likely to give it second place to their judgement on the country's economic future.

Unemployment has overwhelmed any electoral benefit Mr Keating might have gained from other economic indicators released during the campaign, including a rise in exports and business investment. Australia's economy has moved back into growth, for which Mr Keating can claim credit. Most Australians, though, remember him as the Treasurer (or finance minister) under Mr Hawke who brought what he once called 'the recession we had to have'.

For his part, Mr Hewson promises as his main economic reform a VAT-type goods and services tax (GST), which polls indicate many Australians find either confusing or unwelcoming. He has stayed silent on the republic question.

Both leaders returned yesterday to their constituencies in Sydney to await the result. Mr Hewson held a final press conference on the shores of Bondi Beach, in the heart of his electorate, where he spoke as if victory was already his. He promised not to renege on his policies when faced with the reality of power. 'We aren't going to go into government and change our minds and say things are worse than we feared.'

Mr Keating made a final impassioned plea to make the election a referendum on the GST: 'I don't believe Australians will vote for the GST any more than they will take the dog-eat- dog policies of the opposition that will turn Australian society on its head.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor