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Australian opposition targets inflation in campaign launch

Labour Party leader Anthony Albanese (Liam Kidston/Pool/AP)
Labour Party leader Anthony Albanese (Liam Kidston/Pool/AP)

Australia’s opposition party officially launched its election campaign on Sunday with an emphasis on cutting the cost of living for voters as inflation surges to its highest rate in 21 years.

The centre-left Labour Party launched its campaign in the west coast city of Perth for the first time since the Second World War, in a demonstration of how important Western Australia state is to the party’s ambition to win control of government in the national elections on May 21.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has promised lower-cost childcare and medicines if he becomes prime minister.

Australian opposition leader Anthony Albanese launches the Labour Party’s election campaign in Perth (Lukas Coch/AAP/AP)

With many aspiring home-owners priced out of the housing market, a Labour government would buy a stake of up to 40% in dwellings bought by thousands of eligible low- and middle-income earners. The party has also promised to raise standards in old-age care and increase pay for staff.

“We can do better than this, so much better than this,” Mr 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 Mr Albanese’s plan to take a stake in homes, arguing that a Labour 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,” Mr 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,” he added.

Australia Politics
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, right, and Labour Party leader Anthony Albanese take part in a debate in Brisbane (Jason Edwards/Pool/AP)

Official data released last week showed that Australia’s inflation rose to 5.1% in the year to March. It is the highest annual rate since 2001 when a newly-introduced 10% federal consumption tax created a temporary rise.

Inflation in the quarter to March was sharply higher than the 3.7% three months earlier. The latest figure 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 Mr 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.

Mr Morrison set the election date on April 10, but parties officially launch their campaigns closer to polling day when voters are starting to focus more on their choice.

Mr Morrison is not 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 politician quit the Liberal Party last year.

Australian opposition leader Anthony Albanese is hoping Labour’s extraordinary popularity at state parliament-level will rub off on his federal candidates (Lukas Coch/AAP/AP)

Labour won only five of the 16 electoral divisions in Western Australia at the last election, with Mr Morrison’s coalition taking the rest.

Mr Albanese is hoping Labour’s extraordinary popularity at state parliament-level will rub off on his federal candidates.

The Labour 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.

Labour 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.