Scott Morrison calls May 18 election
SCOTT Morrison has confirmed the federal election will be held on May 18.
Speaking from Parliament House this morning, the Prime Minister finally put an end to speculation over the date.
"We live in the best country in the world," Mr Morrison said. "But to secure your future, the road ahead depends on a strong economy. And that's why there is so much at stake at this election."
He commended his government for delivering the "first budget surplus in more than a decade", saying the Liberal Party would keep unemployment down, secure borders and guarantee funding for schools, hospitals and infrastructure.
He then took aim at the Opposition, saying: "You will have the choice between a government that is delivering a strong economy and will continue to do so, or Bill Shorten's Labor Party whose policies would weaken our economy.
"It's taken us more than five years to turn around Labor's mess. Now is not the time to turn back. Keeping our economy strong is how we secure your future, and your family's future."
Taking questions, Mr Morrison bypassed the suggestion from a reporter that his government is unstable.
He said the government had delivered on bringing unemployment down, bringing a stronger economy and increasing funding for schools and hospitals.
"The choice that is going to be made by Australians on May 18 is like it always is at every election. Who do you trust to deliver the strong economy which your essential services rely on? Who do you trust to deliver the strong economy and the budget management that these services can be funded?"
Asked to explain the Liberal Party's six-year history of toppling leaders, the Prime Minister said: "That's why after I became Prime Minister we changed the rules in the Liberal Party... and those rules say that if I'm re-elected as PM, then I will serve as your PM because the rules have been changed to prevent the things that have happened in the past."
TIMING OF SCOMO'S ELECTION CALL
Earlier this morning, Mr Morrison had a brief official meeting with the Governor-General at his house in Canberra.
The timing here is no accident. Mr Morrison has basically given himself total air-time to spruik his party's policies and discuss how his party plans to campaign during the election, while most of the nation is tuning into the morning headlines.
Throughout this morning, every TV channel has been covering the Prime Minister's every move in Canberra.
Elections are traditionally called on a Sunday, with many expecting Mr Morrison to confirm the date last weekend.
But the former marketing man has held out until today.
Announcing it this morning guarantees him a bigger space to sell his message to voters.
The two men vying for the nation's top job are set to go head-to-head with the next federal election to be called this morning.
Mr Morrison, who has held the position for just over seven months, is widely expected to name May 18 as the election date.
Mr Morrison will detail his plans for the next election.
Then will come the election campaign, which will run for about five weeks, before voters head to the polls. A minimum of 33 days is required for the campaign, which will see the party leaders hit the streets and pull out all the stops.
It comes days after Mr Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten each announced their respective party's plans for the 2019-20 Budget.
THE HEAD-TO-HEAD BATTLE
Off the back of its almost-successful "Mediscare" campaign in 2016, Labor is again seizing on health as the key issue for the May election.
Mr Shorten on Thursday unveiled what he described as the most important investment in Medicare since Bob Hawke created it - a plan to fund six million cancer scans, bulk-bill an extra three million cancer specialist appointments and guarantee every drug recommended by independent experts gets on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
Health consistently emerges as the top issue for voters when it comes to elections and will undoubtedly be a hot-button topic this time around. While the Coalition is rated favourably on national security and the economy, Labor scores better on health and education.
In contrast, The Liberals are peddling trust and economic stewardship as the hallmarks of the party's leadership.
The Coalition's Budget on April 2, which matched Labor's unfreezing of Medicare rebates and sought to neuter Labor's appeal to low- and middle-income earners, set up attack points on a surplus, tax reform and infrastructure. The Coalition is also expected to campaign heavily on Labor's higher tax for higher income earners and Mr Shorten's unpopularity. A key strategy in the Coalition's armoury will be exploiting polls data that suggests voters have a dim opinion of Mr Shorten as a leader and are suspicious of his unionist background.
With the addition of a new ACT seat, 151 MPs will be elected along with and half of Australia's 76 senators. To win majority government, either party needs to win 76 seats in the House of Representatives. The Coalition goes into the election holding 74 lower house seats; Labor has 69. Labor needs to gain seven seats on a uniform swing of 1 per cent from the 2016 election. After a redrawing of electoral boundaries and the Wentworth by-election, the Coalition starts notionally with 73 seats with Labor on 72.
WHAT THE POLLS SAY
The April 8 Newspoll put Labor ahead of the Coalition, on 52 per cent to 48 per cent two party-preferred, but an Ipsos poll that same day showed a stronger lead of 53 to 47.
The Newspoll results showed Mr Morrison's rating as preferred prime minister lifted three points to 46 per cent, well ahead of Bill Shorten on 35 per cent.
Mr Shorten has consistently slagged behind both Malcolm Turnbull and Mr Morrison as preferred prime minister, despite Labor leading the Coalition in two-party terms for more than 1000 days.
Mr Morrison has had less than a year to boost the government's popularity since claiming the leadership of a party riven by personal vendettas and infighting over key policy.
In contrast, Mr Shorten has guided Labor since its big election loss in 2013, using methodical policy announcements aimed at reducing generational inequality and combating climate change to boost his party's popularity, even as surveys show he's not personally popular with many voters.
"Voters seem impressed that Labor has tried to present a vision for how Australia should look and has presented detailed policy," said Paul Williams, a political analyst at Brisbane's Griffith University, told Bloomberg.
"Despite the fact he remains unpopular with most voters, Shorten seems to have grown into the job."
After he delivered Labor's Budget reply on April 4 in the House of Representatives, Mr Shorten was drawn on his "lacklustre" popularity by 7.30 host Leigh Sales
"Wait until you meet me and see our fair go plan in action," he said when asked what he would explain that to the average Australian voter.
KEY SEATS TO WATCH
There are 151 seats up for grabs in the 2019 election, but some matter more than others, with the results of about 16 electorates across the country acting as indicators for which side is likely to win. Among them is the marginal NSW mid-north coast seat of Cowper.
Former independent MP Rob Oakeshott, who helped deliver Julia Gillard minority government in 2010, is taking another shot at returning to parliament and vying for the seat in the wake of Nationals MP Luke Hartsuyker retiring. He faces the Nationals' Patrick Conaghan, and could benefit from Labor and Greens preferences.
The Liberals controversially preselected former Labor national president Warren Mundine for the NSW South Coast seat of Gilmore being vacated by MP Ann Sudmalis. The man who was to be the Liberal candidate, Grant Schultz, is standing as an independent with the support of some disgruntled local party members. The Nationals are standing former NSW minister Katrina Hodgkinson. Given the 0.7 per cent margin, Labor's Fiona Phillips is hopeful of winning the seat amid the coalition chaos.
In Queensland, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has held the seat of Dickson since 2001, but the margin has narrowed after the 2016 election and subsequent redistribution. The mortgage-belt seat covers Brisbane's northwestern suburbs and encompasses some rural areas. Grassroots campaigning by GetUp and others is putting pressure on Mr Dutton, who was hit by a 5.1 per cent swing away from him in 2016. Labor's Ali France is hopeful of doing well, but will require a strong showing from the Greens' Benedict Coyne to win.
Victoria Health Minister Greg Hunt will battle ex-Liberal Julia Banks, who is giving up her seat of Chisholm to run as an independent for Flinders. A redistribution has chipped away at Mr Hunt's margin, but he's held it since 2001 and is a born and bred local. Green, Labor and minor party preferences could benefit Banks.
- with Sam Clench and AAP