Prime Minister Scott Morrison made his final major speech of the campaign at the National Press Club in Canberra on Thursday with a recurring theme that now was not the time to elect a Labour Party government.
Labour leader Bill Shorten chose to make his final campaign pitch in the same western Sydney venue where party hero Gough Whitlam gave what has been remembered as his “It’s Time” speech in 1972.
“It’s Time” was also the campaign slogan. Weeks after his speech, Labour won its first federal election victory since 1946 and Whitlam became a reforming prime minister.
Morrison accused Labour of indulging in self-congratulation with the reminder of the Whitlam victory.
“This will be a close election,” Morrison said. “That is not something, I think, anyone was writing two months ago, six months ago, eight months ago.”
“Don’t let anyone tell you that this election is run and done,” Morrison added.
Opinion polls have consistently put Labour ahead of Morrison’s Liberal Party-led coalition for the past two years.
Shorten was cheered by hundreds of supporters wearing T-shirts with the slogan “Vote for change. Vote for Labour,” in a raucous hall in the working-class suburb of Blacktown.
“Never has the case for change been more clear or more urgent,” Shorten told the gathering. “Because just as Blacktown tells us the story of the change that Australia voted for back then, it also speaks for why our country should vote for change now.”
Whitlam, who died in 2014, is remembered for sweeping reforms including government-funded universal health care and free university education. But he is also remembered for financial mismanagement that led to his government being fired in 1975 by the Australian governor-general, who represents the Queen, Australia’s head of state.
Shorten is the man most likely to become Australia’s prime minister and has the solid support of his centre-left Labour Party behind him. But the Australian public isn’t so sure.
Shorten first found the public spotlight as a miners’ union boss in 2006 when the world media was transfixed on a gold mine collapse drama that ended with the rescue of two miners who had been trapped underground for two weeks. He is still contending with accolades and condemnation for saying three years ago that some of then-presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s views were “barking mad”.
While the party he leads is popular, Australians have not warmed to the idea of Shorten becoming their next prime minister.
Even though the ruling conservative Liberal Party-led coalition has lagged behind Labour in opinion polls for the past two years, Shorten has been rated a less popular leader than Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
But despite an apparent lack of charisma, most experts expect that the 52-year-old Shorten will lead his party into power for the first time in six years.