CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s opposition party officially launched its election campaign on Sunday with an emphasis on cutting costs of living for voters as inflation surges to its highest rate in 21 years.
The center-left Labor Party launched it campaign in the west coast city of Perth for the first time since World War II, in a demonstration of how important Western Australia state is to the party’s ambition to win control of government in May 21 elections.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese promised lower-cost childcare and medicines if he becomes prime minister.
With many aspiring home owners priced out of the housing market, a Labor government would buy a stake of up to 40% in dwellings bought by thousands of eligible low- and middle-income earners. Labor also promised to raise standards in aged care and increase pay for staff.
“We can do better than this, so much better than this,” Albanese told supporters, referring to the conservative government’s nine years in power.
“We will look after the young, we will look after the sick, we will look after our older Australians. No one held back and no one left behind,” Albanese added.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison attacked Labor’s plan to take a stake in homes, arguing a Labor government would expect to make money out of such deals.
“They will have equity in your home. And as ... your equity goes up, they’re going to keep it,” Morrison said.
“I don’t have a plan to make money off people buying homes. Quite the opposite. I want them to own their own home,” Morrison added.
Official data released last week showed that Australia’s inflation rose to 5.1% in the year through March. It is the highest annual rate since 2001 when a newly-introduced 10% federal consumption tax created a temporary hike. Inflation in the latest March quarter was sharply higher than the 3.7% three months earlier. The March result was driven by a surge in fuel and housing costs as well as food shortages created by recent Australian floods.
While inflationary forces are largely outside Morrison’s control, some observers suspect rising prices undermine his coalition’s claim to be the superior economic managers.
Most economists expect Australia’s central bank will on Tuesday raise a benchmark interest rate for the first time since November 2010. The overnight cash rate has been at a record low 0.1% since November 2020.
The Reserve Bank of Australia last raised interest rates during an election campaign in 2007. Two weeks later, Prime Minister John Howard’s conservative government was voted out of office after more than 11 years in power.
Morrison set the election date on April 10. But parties officially launch their campaigns closer to the poll day when voters are starting to focus more on their choice.
Morrison isn’t expected to launch his Liberal Party’s campaign until the weekend before the election.
His coalition won 77 seats at the 2019 election in the 151-seat House of Representatives where a government needs to control a majority. The government's majority shrank to a bare minimum 76 seats when a lawmaker quit the Liberal Party last year.
Labor won only five of the 16 electoral divisions in Western Australia at the last election. Morrison’s coalition won the rest.
Albanese is hoping Labor’s extraordinary popularity at the state parliament-level will brush off on his federal candidates.
The Labor state government used strict border restrictions to keep Western Australia largely free of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic until the more infectious delta and omicron variants became entrenched in recent months.
Labor was rewarded with a record 53 seats in the 59-seat state legislature in an election in March last year, 13 more than in the previous election.
Rod Mcguirk, The Associated Press