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Australian PM puts personal life at centre of election campaign launch

Scott Morrison aims to keep his Liberal Party in government next Saturday, but faces tough opposition from Labour and its leader Bill Shorten.

Australian PM Scott Morrison speaks during the launch of his Liberal Party’s election campaign (Mick Tsikas/AP)
Australian PM Scott Morrison speaks during the launch of his Liberal Party’s election campaign (Mick Tsikas/AP)

Australia’s Prime Minister has launched his conservative coalition’s election campaign with an extraordinarily personal presentation.

Scott Morrison is his government’s third prime minister in its six years in office and still remains relatively unknown to many Australians, who he is asking for a third three-year term when they vote next Saturday.

The coalition’s campaign launch in Melbourne included recorded interviews with Morrison family members that covered his wife Jenny’s diagnosis with endometriosis, their 14-year failed battle to conceive through IVF before having two daughters naturally, and his brother-in-law’s struggle with MS.

Mr Morrison, a policeman’s son, also spoke of his modest upbringing in Sydney and how he shared a bedroom until he was in high school with an older brother who was studying at university.

He told the gathering of government ministers and supporters of his Liberal Party: “Life’s about what you contribute, not what you accumulate. That’s what mum and dad have taught me.”

He was joined on stage by his mother Marion, his wife and daughters Abbey, 11, and Lily, nine, but said his father John was “too frail” to attend.

He presented his mother and wife with bouquets of flowers to acknowledge Mother’s Day in Australia.

Mr Morrison also used the launch to outline government policies including support for first-time buyers to help them enter the housing market.

The government argues that the centre-left opposition Labour Party’s policy of reducing tax breaks for landlords would steepen a current downturn in house prices in major cities.

Mr Morrison described the election as a choice between him and opposition leader Bill Shorten as prime minister.

He said: “The choice between a government that knows how to manage money, has returned the budget to surplus and will now pay down debt. Or Bill Shorten and Labour, whose reckless spending and higher taxes will put all of that at risk at the worst possible time.”

The government in April outlined an economic plan that would balance the books in the next fiscal year for the first time in 12 years. Labour has promised to deliver bigger budget surpluses by reducing tax breaks for landlords and some shareholders.

But the bitter divisions within the Liberal Party that thrust Mr Morrison into power last August were still evident at the launch on Sunday.

None of the three surviving former Liberal prime ministers attended.

John Howard is Australia’s second-longest serving prime minister who spent 11 years in office until his government was defeated at elections in 2007.

Tony Abbott spent three years in office before he was dumped by party colleagues in 2015 in the face of dismal opinion polling.

He was replaced by Malcolm Turnbull, who was similarly dumped by colleagues last year.

By contrast, three of the four surviving Labour prime ministers attended Mr Shorten’s Labour campaign launch a week earlier. The oldest, Bob Hawke, 89, sent his apologies.

Mr Morrison is hoping his personal charisma will persuade people to vote for his Liberal Party candidates, but opinion polls suggest they prefer Labour despite misgivings about Mr Shorten as leader.

Mr Shorten is a former union leader who turned 52 on Sunday.

Mr Morrison is a former tourism marketer who turns 51 on Monday.

Both were first elected to parliament at the 2007 election that ended Mr Howard’s government and decades of relative political stability.

Meanwhile, Mr Shorten addressed a campaign rally in Melbourne on Sunday in which he focused on Labour’s pledge to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 45% below 2005 levels by 2030.

The government has committed to reduce emissions by 26% to 28% in the same time-frame.

Opinion polls suggest climate change is a growing concern for voters, but is a divisive policy issue among the conservatives who are split between those who give priority to reducing emissions and those who want the lowest possible power prices.

PA

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