SYDNEY:Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the leader of the conservative Liberal coalition government, said on Sunday that Australia would hold national elections on July 2, in a contest that is likely to be close.
The election will be the first time Mr. Turnbull and his opponent, Bill Shorten, the leader of the main opposition Labor party, have faced each other on the ballot.
Mr. Shorten was appointed Labor leader after his party lost control of the government in 2013. Mr. Turnbull took over last year after deposing his deeply unpopular, gaffe-prone predecessor, Tony Abbott, who was in his first term as prime minister.
The announcement on Sunday was not a surprise. The federal budget, which is the government’s annual blueprint for managing the economy, was delivered a week early. And Mr. Turnbull had warned lawmakers that he would call a so-called double dissolution election, in which all Senate seats are thrown open for a vote, if the rambunctious upper house continued to block government legislation. A change in Senate rules, passed in March, means some dissenting senators from minor parties may find it hard to win re-election on July 2.
“At this election, Australians will have a very clear choice: to keep the course, maintain the commitment to our national economic plan for growth and jobs, or go back to Labor with its higher-taxing, higher-spending, debt-and-deficit agenda, which will stop our nation’s transition to the new economy dead in its tracks,” Mr. Turnbull said at a news conference on Sunday in Canberra, the capital.
He promised a steady hand in managing economy, lower company taxes and increased job growth.
Mr. Shorten, at a news conference on Sunday in Tasmania, Australia’s southernmost state, said Labor represents a “fairer Australia.” He is likely to use the campaign to highlight the contrast between his own past as a union organizer and Mr. Turnbull’s as an investment banker and highly paid lawyer.
The Labor Party has promised tax overhauls that would most likely affect affluent property investors by curtailing tax breaks on some investments. It has also committed to legalizing same sex marriage within 100 days of entering office, and enacting policies to help fight climatic changes. If the Liberal coalition returns to power, Australians will see another “three years of dysfunction, of dithering and disappointment,” Mr. Shorten said.
The campaign will be a long one by Australian standards, where a typical election campaign runs four to five weeks, and voters are already weary. Mr. Turnbull has squandered an early lead his party held in polls after unseating the staunchly conservative Mr. Abbott.
Voters had expected Mr. Turnbull to be bolder and more progressive. But the government’s flat-footed approach to issues like tax overhauls and education funding, and Mr. Turnbull’s decision to stick with a conservative party line on same-sex marriage and climate change, have damaged his party’s standing.
The Liberal coalition and Labor were tied in a poll taken from April 14 to 16, with 50 percent of the vote each. The poll has a margin of error of 2.6 percent.
“He has squandered his party’s lead,” said Jessica Elgood, a director of Ipsos.
Geoffrey Robinson, a lecturer on politics at Deakin University in Geelong, Victoria State, said: “People expected something new from the government when Mr. Turnbull took over, and he has not delivered.”
Both leaders have said they would maintain Australia’s strict policies against asylum seekers who attempt to arrive by boat. Asylum seekers are assessed at offshore camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, and are not allowed to settle in Australia regardless of whether they are refugees.