Australia election 2019: Voters aren’t really happy with either of their choices for leader, but they have to vote anyway
But with Australia one of the few countries in the world to have compulsory voting, they have to cast their ballot for someone on Saturday, which experts are saying could lead to a record third-party vote.
More than anything else, amid a merry-go-round of prime ministers and a lack of leadership, Australians are just fed up with both major parties, former Liberal Party leader John Hewson told CNN.
“Basically both parties are self-absorbed, scoring points on each other, inside the party or between parties, so basically all the big issues have just been left adrift,” he said.
“(Voters) are so cynical and they’ve had enough.”
A union man and a committed Christian
Voting is due to close at 6 p.m. local time in eastern Australia (4 a.m. ET), with the final ballots expected to be deposited two hours later in the west of the country.
Neither of the two competitors for Australia’s next prime minister has a high international profile — even the incumbent Morrison has only been in the job eight months.
Morrison is a former Tourism Australia chief executive and committed Pentecostal Christian who quickly gained a reputation across Australia as immigration minister in 2013 and 2014.
His opponent, Bill Shorten, has been the Labor leader for almost six years. Shorten rose to power through the union movement, during which time he headed up the Australian Worker’s Union, one of the country’s largest.
John Warhurst, emeritus professor of politics at the Australian National University, told CNN there was just a general lack of enthusiasm for these two current options.
“None of them have that indefinable popularity that someone like (former leaders) Malcolm Turnbull or Bob Hawke had, they don’t naturally make a very positive connection with the Australian community,” he said.
If Shorten wins to become Australia’s new prime minister, he would be the sixth leader in just over a decade.
The rapid changeover of prime ministers in party leadership contests has become a national and international joke, with some comparing Australia to other dysfunctional democracies like Italy and Greece.
Tony Abbott promised to end the leadership turmoil after he won the 2013 election. But less than two years later he was kicked out by his own party for Turnbull.
Turnbull narrowly won the 2016 national election against Shorten, only to be on the receiving end of the knife in August 2018, replaced with Morrison.
Former Liberal Party leader Hewson said the constant changes had not only eroded voter trust in politicians, but also pulled national attention away from issues important to Australia’s future.
“All the big issues have been left adrift, whether its housing affordability, or electricity prices, there’s been a whole lot of areas which probably need great structural reform,” he said.
Record-high voter dissatisfaction
In a survey after the 2016 election, the Australian National University found the country’s dissatisfaction with democracy was at an all-time high.
As more and more Australians grow dissatisfied, voters have been turning to minor parties in record numbers.
And recent polls suggest minor parties are unlikely to go away in the 2019 vote.
“They’re providing some relief valves for people who want to go anywhere but the major parties,” Warhurst said.
Election you may not want to win
Should Shorten win on Saturday, he will face a difficult battle to get his ambitious agenda through parliament. The Labor Party wants to take action on climate change, increase taxes on the wealthy and boost funding to schools and hospitals.
Morrison has pledged to keep the economy strong, slash debt and reduce taxes across the board.
But Hewson said neither side had addressed an important reality during campaigning — Australia’s slowing economy.
“The headwinds of our economy are very significant, there’s a lot of complacency and … you haven’t had a recession in over 20 years,” he said. “(But) you can’t rule it out in the next 12 to 18 months.”