By Sonali Paul and John Mair
MELBOURNE/SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia will hold a general election on May 21, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday, triggering a campaign expected to be fought over cost-of-living pressures, climate change and questions of trust and competence of the major parties.
Morrison played up economic uncertainties and security threats in announcing the election, saying this was not the time to hand the reins to an untested opposition Labor leader, Anthony Albanese.
“Only by voting for the Liberals and Nationals at this election on May 21 can you ensure a strong economy for a stronger future,” Morrison told reporters in the capital Canberra.
The opposition Labor party says it would offer a “better future” for the Australian people than the conservative coalition.
Morrison’s coalition, with a one-seat majority in the lower house of parliament, trails Labor in opinion polls after nine years in power. But the conservatives similarly lagged before the previous election in May 2019, when they pulled off a win.
Both Morrison and Albanese on Sunday pointed to the range of challenges Australians have faced since the last election, from fires and floods, to the COVID-19 pandemic, recession and now surging food and fuel costs.
Morrison said his government had saved thousands of lives with its tough COVID-19 curbs and spurred a rapid pandemic recovery to bring unemployment down to 4%.
“Now is not the time to risk that,” Morrison said, adding that Labor would weaken the economy with higher taxes and deficits.
In reply, Albanese said the government had no vision for the country, while his party had plans for cutting child care costs, improving aged care, boosting manufacturing and driving renewable energy growth.
“At the moment, we have an economy that isn’t working for people. People know that. They are doing it really tough,” Albanese told reporters in Sydney.
“We have had a difficult couple of years…As we emerge from this, Australians deserve better.”
(Reporting by Sonali Paul in Melbourne and John Mair in Sydney; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, William Mallard and Michael Perry)