The duel looks tight.

Australians vote on Saturday May 21 to elect their parliament, a poll that could mark the return to power of Labor after nine years of Conservative government.

Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. local time (10 p.m.) and will close at 6 p.m.

Some 17.2 million voters choose the 151 seats in the House of Representatives for a three-year term.

Forty of the 76 Senate seats are also renewed for six years.

The party or coalition that wins the majority in the lower house will automatically be responsible for forming the government.

Opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanese, a slight favorite in the polls to become the next prime minister, has asked voters to "give him a chance".

"Give this country a chance, we have plans," he said, describing current Conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison as "the most divisive I have ever seen."

Scott Morrison, in power since 2018 and seeking re-election, appears to have reduced Labor's lead in the polls in recent days, although he still appears to be lagging behind.

He accused his rival of showing "excessive pride" by claiming to be already sure of winning.

The last two polls published before the election, Thursday and Friday, gave Labor a six-point lead, but the gap was tending to narrow.

Both sides are trying to woo voters who are worried about the rising cost of living, with annual inflation running at 5.1% and salaries not keeping up in real terms.

A climate issue

In a country marred by increasingly severe floods, fires and droughts, Labor promises to do more for the environment.

Scott Morrison supports the coal and gas industries, and has resisted global calls to cut carbon emissions beyond the current pledge of -28% by 2030.

Voting is compulsory in Australia, and abstainers face a fine of 20 Australian dollars (13 euros).

Electoral officials also changed the rules at the last minute to allow more Covid-19 positive people to vote by phone, in this first federal election since the start of the pandemic.

Scott Morrison hammers home the message that worked last time: Labor cannot be trusted when it comes to the economy.

He boasted of new data showing Australia's unemployment rate fell to 3.9% in April, its lowest level in 48 years, as an "extraordinary achievement" that shows his plan is working.

He called Anthony Albanese a "fragile element" because of his high-profile gaffes, including his forgetting about the national unemployment rate in front of the press.

"That's the kind of stuff prime ministers need to know," Scott Morrison said in an interview on Friday.

"We have seen that he is not up to the task and that it is beyond him".

Anthony Albanese meanwhile promised firm action against corruption, after the failure of the Morrison government to set up a federal anti-corruption policeman.

He called the Morrison administration "the least open and least fair junk government in Australian political history".

Anthony Albanese, 57, is a working man, brought up in Sydney council housing by a single mother.

Of Italian origin through his father, he would be, if elected, the first Australian head of government not to bear an Anglo-Saxon or Celtic name.

But his opponent Scott Morrison, 54, is tough.

Three years ago he won re-election despite unfavorable polls in what he called a "miracle". 

With AFP

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