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Australian PM calls for May 21 election

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA (AP) – Australia’s Prime Minister has called for a May 21 election that will be fought on issues including Chinese economic coercion, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday advised Governor-General David Hurley as representative of Australia’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth II, to set the election date.

Morrison’s conservative coalition is seeking a fourth three-year term. The date is the latest available to him.

He urged voters to stick with a government that delivered one of the lowest pandemic death tolls of any advanced economy rather than risk the opposition Labor Party. “This election is a choice between a government that you know and that has been delivering and a Labor opposition that you don’t,” Morrison said.

Morrison led his government to a narrow victory at the last election in 2019 despite opinion polls consistently placing the centre-left opposition Australian Labor Party ahead.

The Liberal Party-led coalition is again behind in most opinion polls, but many analysts predict a tight result.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. PHOTO: AP

The last election occurred in the hottest and driest year Australia had ever experienced.

The year ended with devastating wildfires across Australia’s southeast that directly killed 33 people and more than 400 others through smoke.

The fires also destroyed more than 3,000 homes and razed 19 million hectares of farmland and forests during the Southern Hemisphere summer.

Morrison was widely criticised for taking a secret family vacation to Hawaii at the height of the crisis while his hometown Sydney was blanketed in toxic smoke. He cut his vacation short due to the public backlash, but was further criticised over his explanation for his absence: “I don’t hold a hose.”

His government was criticised for its responses to the fires and also record flooding this year in some of the same areas in Australia’s southeast that were razed two years earlier.

Both the government and opposition have set a target of net zero carbon gas emissions by 2050.

Morrison was widely criticised at the United Nations (UN) climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November for failing to set more ambitious targets for the end of the decade.

The government aims to reduce emissions by 26 per cent to 28 per cent below 2005 levels, while other countries have made steeper commitments.

The Australian Labor Party has promised to reduce emissions by 43 per cent by 2030.

Australia was initially successful in containing the death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic largely through restrictions on international travel.

But the more contagious Delta and Omicron variants have proven more difficult to contain.

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