The federal election has been called. Where do the major parties stand heading into the contest?

Labor and the Coalition are set to face off at the ballot box on 21 May with Anthony Albanese having the edge in the polls, but experts say it's too difficult to predict who will win.

Labor is leading the Coalition in the polls.

Labor's Anthony Albanese (right) and Prime Minister Scott Morrison will face off at the ballot box. Credit: AAP

The federal election date has been .

With a compulsory voting system in Australia, here is a look at how the major parties and leaders are positioned heading into the contest.

The Coalition has a slim majority in the House of Representatives after the party led by Scott Morrison won the 2019 election.

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The Morrison government currently holds 76 seats in the 151-seat lower house to Labor's 68 seats, with seven crossbenchers making up the total including three independents, and one representative each from the Greens, the Katter Australia Party, the United Australia Party, and the Centre Alliance.
A graphic showing the current composition of the House of Representatives.
Source: SBS News
Mr Morrison became prime minister in August 2018 after a pair of leadership spills against then incumbent Malcolm Turnbull.
His competitor at the election will be Anthony Albanese, the only candidate who stood for election as leader of the Australian Labor Party following the resignation of Bill Shorten after the 2019 federal election.

Who is tipped to win the election?

Associate professor of politics at Flinders University Haydon Manning said that while opinion polls currently point to a Labor win if an election was held right now, they don't tell the full story.

Current polls suggest "this is clearly Labor leader Anthony Albanese's election to lose", but Australia's pollsters also placed Labor in a similar position last election and got it wrong, he said referring to Labor's loss at the 2019 federal election with Bill Shorten at the helm.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison gets into his car following a visit to the home of new homeowners Lachlan Kowaleski and Katie Macqueen in Jamisontown, Sydney on 1 April 2022.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison gets into his car following a visit to the home of new homeowners Lachlan Kowaleski and Katie Macqueen in Jamisontown, Sydney on 1 April 2022. Source: AAP / AAP
Aside from the 2019 result, Australian National University professor of history Frank Bongiorno said there are other reasons why commentators are cautious in calling who will win this year's election.

"There's a kind of hesitation because of the very differentiated nature of the electorate at the moment - a sense that whilst the government is unpopular in general, and Labor does seem to be resurgent, the situation is very different in different states.

"So the Labor Party is in fact behind the Coalition in Queensland on a two-party preferred basis. And that's important because, at present, the Labor Party holds just a fifth of the seats in Queensland.
ANTHONY ALBANESE PRESSER
Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese meets NSW nurses and midwives association members ahead of a press conference in Sydney on 1 April 2022. Source: AAP / AAP
"Queensland is about 30 House of Representative seats, which is a huge number when you look at federal House of Representatives, which is 151 seats.

"And you would expect that Labor would need to make quite a serious breakthrough in Queensland if it's going to be assured of a majority after the next election.

"So whilst, in other places, the Labor Party seems to be doing very well and the government rather poorly, there's still a kind of question mark, I suppose, over whether the swing is going to translate into seats in all of those places."

Leaders' character a central issue

Political science expert Glenn Kefford at the University of Queensland said although the incumbent leader has in the past held a more favourable position in the polls heading into a federal election, that has not been the case this time.

"That's been a really interesting feature that normally in most polling, the prime minister of the day is generally well ahead as preferred prime minister. And in recent months, we have seen the favourability of Albanese increase.

"So that's a really interesting and big development. And I think a lot of that comes back to the issues around flooding, fires, as well as the response to the pandemic when there was a lot of criticism of the government, and in particular of the prime minister."
The question of the character of the party leaders has emerged as a central issue, with both Anthony Albanese and Scott Morrison facing pressure to respond to allegations of bullying.

Last month, the sudden death of first-term Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching at age 52 led to the emergence of by colleagues Penny Wong, Kristina Keneally and Katy Gallagher - all of whom deny the claims.

Despite calls for an investigation - including by former Labor MPs - into claims Senator Kitching was bullied, the opposition leader said it was not needed.

"Kimberley Kitching would want us to move on, to dedicate ourselves to a Labor victory at the election," Mr Albanese said last month.

"In terms of going forward, we have an ongoing review of all of our internal processes."

Mr Morrison has himself been accused of using bullying and intimidation, with outgoing on 29 March in a nine-minute speech where she labelled him "not fit to be prime minister":
Later that week, added their voices to claims of bullying by the prime minister.

Mr Morrison has also been forced to respond to allegations he weaponised the for the seat of Cook, claims he has strongly rejected.

Associate Professor Manning said that questions over the character of the party leaders will remain a central theme of the election.

"I really think the question of leadership and indeed in this election character is really going to matter," he said.

"It's unusual for voters to see a focus on the character of leaders as sharp as it appears at this moment. But having said that it's quite possible when the official campaign gets underway, it will be mainly around the issues of both leaders trying to say the other side will be hopeless managing the economy. And there will be questions about who can do better on health and indeed on education."

What can we expect during the formal campaign period?

Associate Professor Manning said climate change is also emerging as a factor in the policy pitch and voters' concerns.

"There's a huge difference between where you live. If you're inner urban, your concerns about climate change are much sharper than if you're outer urban and certainly in the regions," he said.

"And what I think we'll see in this election is an intense campaign by a range of independents in Liberal seats, where climate change will be not in the background, it will be primary.

"It will, however, be in the background for the rest of Australia. And in the end, the election will be won or lost in the rest of Australia."

There is also the issue of whether there might be a larger number of people adopting the early voting methods, including postal votes, traditionally used by older, more conservative voters.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison takes a selfie with Liberal member for Braddon Gavin Pearce and apprentices on a building site in Spreyton, Tasmania on 3 April 2022.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison takes a selfie with Liberal member for Braddon Gavin Pearce and apprentices on a building site in Spreyton, Tasmania on 3 April 2022. Source: AAP / AAP
With modelling indicating a surge in COVID-19 infections expected in mid-April, continuing through to May, early voting could be widely adopted in this federal election.

"That bedevils the planning of any election campaign," Associate Professor Manning said, "because it's not like in the past, where you would have the full campaign to the last day before polling. This time a lot of the major announcements will have to be made early on."

Legislation has not yet been passed adopting the Australian Electoral Commission's (AEC) recommendation for pre-poll votes to be counted on election day, potentially using the New Zealand model. The recommendation was made during the parliamentary inquiry into the conduct of the 2019 federal election.

Over the years, voters have increasingly taken up the option of pre-poll and postal voting. In 2007, the pre-poll vote was 8.3 per cent - and that expanded to 32.3 per cent in 2019 election. Postal votes grew from 5.4 per cent to 8.2 per cent in that time period.
Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk during the opening of Woolworths’ new distribution centre in Heathwood, Brisbane on 4 April 2022.
Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk during the opening of Woolworths’ new distribution centre in Heathwood, Brisbane on 4 April 2022. Source: AAP / AAP
In its submission, the AEC said the growth in the number of pre-poll votes had made it harder to determine a definitive final count on election night.

"Some divisions had pre-poll counts of up to 25,000 votes, with 149 PPVC [pre-poll voting centres] having counts of more than 10,000 votes," it said of the 2019 federal election.

"That just brings in another uncertainty into the whole election, and particularly election night. Will we know a result? Because if you've got 25 per cent or 30 per cent of votes still to be counted - and it's close, it's impossible to tell who the winner is on election night," Associate Professor Manning said.

Dr Kefford said, in his assessment, the parties had already moved into the mode of campaigning even before the formal declaration of an election date, with leaders travelling around the country to visit electorates.
Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese and Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time in Parliament on 16 February 2022.
Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese and Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time in Parliament on 16 February 2022. Source: AAP / AAP
"So the question is really when do the parties release their major policies? Perhaps that will mean that they will start to release their major policies more towards the start of the official campaign rather than towards the end, which was more common in previous electoral cycles."

He said it will be a challenge to get voters engaged after the fallout from revelations on the culture in the federal Parliament and crises of the floods, bushfires and COVID-19 pandemic.

"My sense of it is that many people are extremely tired of politics as we know it, not just because of everything we've been through, but a general dissatisfaction with various parts of Australian democracy - and they're looking for something different," Dr Kefford said.

"Many Australian voters aren't satisfied with the way politics looks to them, and whether it actually has the diversity of voices that they think it should have."

What do past elections tell us?

Professor Bongiorno said incumbent governments certainly do have an advantage when one looks at the history of federal elections in Australia.

"It's certainly by no means impossible that electors will remove a government, even when there's a sense the overall economy is going along reasonably well. I mean that's precisely what happened in 2007 for instance, and in a sense in 2013 as well," he said.
"They don't make a change very often though ... In the case of the Labor Party, since the Depression in the 1930s, it has won office from opposition on about three occasions: 1972, 1983 and 2007.

"Particularly to change from Coalition to Labor, voters do need a good reason to do it. And they need a really strong sense of confidence, I think, in whoever it is that they're investing the votes at that election."

Associate Professor Manning said the strong macroeconomic situation is something the Coalition government will continue to emphasise as a factor favouring them.
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"It is Labor's election to lose [based on the polls], but I'm certainly not in the camp to say I'd put my money on them winning because the economy is strong," he said.

"That does give the Morrison government something to really campaign on. Plus, the degree to which they can use voters' concerns about national security, and which party would be better in government to keep us safe," he said, referring to the heightened attention on Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

How likely will there be a hung parliament?

Since 1910, Australia has generally had majority governments formed by either Labor or the Coalition - a partnership between the Liberal Party and the Nationals - facilitated by electoral system settings that favour the major parties.

But the primary vote for the major parties has been declining over the years, with almost 25 per cent of Australian voters at the 2019 federal election abandoning the major parties and casting a first preference vote for minor parties or independents.

All three election analysts SBS News spoke to said the prospects of a hung parliament at this election are more than a remote possibility.
Dr Kefford said that with federal election results narrowing in recent years between the major parties, a hung parliament could realistically eventuate.

"There's certainly a chance [of a hung parliament]. And with the usual history of elections being quite close, there's always going to be a chance of a minority government, and especially when you see the rise of independents and other minor parties - like Zali Steggall, the Greens and other parties."

Who would be the kingmaker in that event depends on who has the numbers, he said.

In the 151-seat lower house, 76 seats are needed to form government.

"It does really depend on how the numbers shake out; and which of the major parties actually has the most numbers; and how many they need to actually form government," Dr Kefford said.
There are 15 independent MPs sitting on the Senate crossbench, including Helen Haines, Zali Steggall and Andrew Wilkie.
There are 15 independent MPs sitting on the Senate crossbench, including Helen Haines, Zali Steggall and Andrew Wilkie. Source: AAP / AAP
Professor Bongiorno said it could also be the case that an independent holding the balance of power could demand that the Coalition change its leader - although that would depend on a number of contingencies.

"There's certainly a more than the remote prospect of a hung parliament. But whether you get the kind of scenario where the independents might be willing to keep this government Coalition in power, but to try to affect a change of prime minister. I think that's much more remote. That does depend on a lot of contingencies that are quite complicated.

"But yes, it has happened before. And in fact, there's a bit of a precedent in NSW state politics in 1992, where independents basically forced a change of NSW premier from Nick Greiner to John Fahey.

"I think the strength of the push by the independent complicates the election. It does make the outcome of the election just that little bit more unpredictable."

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12 min read
Published 11 April 2022 at 7:12am, updated 11 April 2022 at 8:11am
By Biwa Kwan
Source: SBS News