Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his leadership style would be more empathetic if re-elected, as he sought to woo voters discouraged by his self-proclaimed “bulldozing manner” in the final week of the campaign trail.
On Saturday, Mr Morrison claimed Australia needed “strength and resilience” to get through the past two turbulent years, but acknowledged the approach he had taken during the pandemic would have to change.
Speaking from the Victorian seat of Deakin, held by the Liberals by a 4.8 per cent margin, the Prime Minister said voters could expect a more collaborative leader if he defied the polls on May 21.
“I will seek to explain my motivations and concerns, and empathize a lot more,” he said.
“But I’m telling you what, at the end of the day, what matters most is that I get the job done.”
In Melbourne on Saturday, Mr Morrison urged voters to consider the optimism and the opportunities available to them now that the country is past the lockdown phase of the pandemic.
As part of that optimistic sentiment, he announced the expansion of a program designed to get more high school students back into physical activity.
The expansion of the government’s sports schools program would see up to 700,000 more students playing sport at school, with more than $20 million spent on the initiative.
The program, currently available for students in grades 7 and 8, will be extended to grades 9 and 10.
As well as competing with Labour, the coalition must fend off high-profile independent candidates in the Victorian Liberal core seats who are putting pressure on some of Mr Morrison’s best colleagues, such as Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
The Prime Minister faces an uphill battle to retain office, with polls indicating Labor are on course to win the government on May 21.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese on Saturday accused the Prime Minister of playing short-sighted politics in failing to inform Labor of a plan to build nuclear submarines with the help of the United States and of Great Britain just before it was made public.
Citing a report in The Sydney Morning Herald and age, Mr Albanese said the United States had asked the Australian government to secure the support of the two main political parties for the plans. The Labor leader said the delay showed the Prime Minister was more concerned with politics than the national interest.
“When the request came I should have been informed,” Mr Albanese said.
The government’s diplomatic powers have become a live election issue after China struck a new security pact with the Solomon Islands in a region where Australia and its allies, including the United States, have played a dominant role in international relations.
Separately, China has urged Australian politicians to stop being fearmongers after Defense Minister Peter Dutton said a Chinese warship sighted off the west coast of Australia was an “act of ‘assault”.
Mr Morrison later clarified that the ship had been sighted around 250 nautical miles off the coast of Western Australia and at no time had it entered Australian waters.
Albanese Medicare Pledge
The Labor leader focused his campaign on Saturday on the traditionally strong Labor health platform, with a $750 million pledge to boost Medicare across the country to deliver better health care and better access for patients. .
The Strengthening Medicare Fund would provide $250 million per year over three years starting in 2023/24, and would seek to provide greater patient accessibility and better management of complex and chronic conditions.
Labor would also set up a task force on strengthening Medicare which would be chaired by the Minister of Health and bring together health policymakers, such as the Australian Medical Association.
A $220 million grant scheme would be dedicated to GP clinics to upgrade systems, buy equipment and develop staff, with grants of $25,000 or $50,000 available for practices, depending on their size .
Mr Albanese, who campaigned in Darwin on Saturday morning as the Labor Party seeks to retain the Northern Territory’s two federal seats, said the grants would make it easier for people to see a GP.
“General practice is the cornerstone of the Australian healthcare system,” he said.
“Australians trust their GPs. It is a vital relationship to ensure that all Australians get the quality healthcare they deserve.