CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – The Australian Prime Minister has called for elections on May 21 to be fought over issues such as Chinese economic coercion, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday advised Governor General David Hurley, representing Australia’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth II, to set the election date.
Morrison’s conservative coalition is seeking a fourth three-year term. The date is the last available to him.
He urged voters to cling to a government that delivered one of the lowest pandemic death tolls of an advanced economy, rather than risk the opposition Labor party.
“This election is a choice between a government you know and which has performed and a Labor opposition you don’t know,” Morrison said.
Morrison led his government to a narrow victory in the last election in 2019, despite polls consistently leading the opposition centre-left Australian Labor Party.
The Liberal Party-led coalition is again trailing in most opinion polls, but many analysts predict a tight result.
The latest elections took place in Australia’s hottest and driest year on record. The year ended with devastating bushfires in southeastern Australia, killing 33 people and more than 400 others from smoke.
The fires also destroyed more than 3,000 homes and destroyed 19 million acres of farmland and forests during the southern hemisphere summer.
Morrison was criticized for taking a secret family vacation to Hawaii at the height of the crisis, while his hometown of Sydney was shrouded in toxic smoke.
He cut his vacation short because of the public reaction, but was further criticized for his explanation for his absence: “I don’t hold a snake.”
His government has been criticized for its responses to the fires and also recorded flooding this year in some of the same areas of southeastern Australia that were devastated two years earlier.
Both the government and the opposition have set a target of net zero CO2 emissions by 2050.
Morrison was criticized in November at the UN climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, for failing to set more ambitious goals by the end of the decade.
The government aims to reduce emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels, while other countries have made stronger commitments.
The Australian Labor Party has pledged to cut emissions by 43% by 2030.
Australia initially managed to contain the death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic largely through restrictions on international travel.
But the more contagious delta and ommicron variants proved more difficult to contain.
The opposition criticized the government over the pace of the vaccine rollout in Australia, which was derided as a “trip” as it was months behind schedule. Australia’s population is now one of the most vaccinated in the world.
The government has defended its pandemic record, taking credit for Australia with the third lowest death toll among the 38 countries of the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation.
After China has imposed official and unofficial trade sanctions on Australia in recent years, the government says Beijing wants Labor to win the election because the party would be less likely to resist economic coercion.
Labor takes credit for thwarting the government’s 2014 plan to sign an extradition treaty with China. Bilateral relations have deteriorated since then and the government is now warning Australians risk arbitrary detention if they visit China.
Several experts say both sides of politics are largely united on national security issues and the government is addressing disagreements over China.
“The government is trying to create the perception of a difference between it and the opposition on a critical national security issue, namely China, and is trying to create the perception of a difference when it doesn’t exist in practice,” said Dennis Richardson, a former head from the government. of Defense, Foreign Affairs and the Australian Security Intelligence Organization espionage agency and the former Australian Ambassador to the United States.
“That is not in the national interest. That only serves the interests of one country and that is China,” Richardson added.