Australia 2019 Election Live Updates: Will Voters Pick a New Path?

Version 5 of 15.

Australians are heading to the polls today to choose a new government. Here’s the key question:

Will the country, a vital American ally in the Asia-Pacific, keep its rightward path and re-elect the current conservative coalition? Or will voters choose change and the promise of greater action on climate change, along with more government intervention in the economy and the social safety net?

The two candidates at the top of the major-party tickets are both well known to Australians and (according to polls) not much beloved. Polls also indicated a close race, although the current prime minister was trailing.

Bill Shorten, 52, the opposition leader, is a lawyer and former trade union official.

He leads the center-left Labor Party and ran a campaign focused on making government more interventionist — not necessarily in the sense of spending, but on behalf of workers, aiming to lift wages and close tax loopholes benefiting investors and wealthy retirees.

Scott Morrison, 51, is the incumbent prime minister, and a former immigration minister and treasurer.

He leads the business-friendly Liberal Party (which is actually conservative), and he has been emphasizing stability, arguing that a Labor win would lead to economic chaos, and possibly the first recession in 27 years. — Damien Cave

[Want Australia news in your inbox? Sign up for the weekly Australia Letter.]

The economy: Polls show that voters are most concerned about the rising cost of living, especially housing. Wages have been stagnant for years, even as the economy has grown.

Climate change: Australia is more vulnerable to climate change than any other developed country, but for more than a decade, Parliament has struggled to enact a comprehensive energy and emissions reduction plan. The conservative coalition has proposed a climate solutions fund to help farmers and businesses; the opposition has promised to reduce pollution and expand renewable energy.

Social safety net: Health care, pensions and other elements of Australia’s social safety net are also of major concern to voters. Cutbacks by the conservative government have led to questions about what to prioritize: benefits for older voters, who tend to vote Liberal, or younger voters, who tend to support Labor.

To catch up on some of the broader issues at stake, here’s some of our recent coverage:

Australia’s Politics May Be Changing With Its Climate

Bill Shorten Wants Australia to Embrace China. But at What Cost?

Toxic Speech Floods Australian Campaign. Here’s Why Some See Signs of Hope.

Why Has Australia Fallen Out of Love With Immigration?

— Damien Cave

Bill Shorten, the Labor Party leader, voted in his hometown, Melbourne, this morning, and answered questions on morning television.

He said he was “confident there is a mood to vote for real change,” and he highlighted the two issues he thought would turn the election in his favor: the economy and climate change.

“At the moment in Australia, the rich are getting richer, but the middle class are getting squeezed and those on fixed incomes are just falling behind,” he said.

“I have a different economic plan for Australia,” he continued. “My view is that if everyone, men and women, people in the bush, people in the city, the young and the old, all get an equal go, then what happens is — that’s a rising tide that lifts all boats.”

He also said that “we’ve got to take action on climate change.” — Damien Cave

Prime Minister Scott Morrison started the day campaigning in Tasmania, where a few close races could decide who wins the day, and he emphasized what his Liberal Party has been emphasizing since the campaign started: stability and economic management. The alternative, if the opposition wins, is chaos, he said.

“Australians take their decision and their choice very seriously,” Mr. Morrison said. “And at this election they do have a choice today. They have a choice between myself and Bill Shorten as prime minister. A government that knows how to manage money and a Labor Party that has never proven they know how to manage money.”

Context: In the United States, a direct appeal to financial management might sound a little too close to Wall Street for mass appeal, but Australia has compulsory superannuation, which means all workers have retirement funds tied up in a public-private finance system. With the opposition calling for changes to tax breaks for retirees and housing investors, comments about money management are not just for the wealthy. — Damien Cave

On their ballot sheets voters will see candidates from a confounding number of minor parties with agendas such as internet activism, vaccine opposition, marijuana legalization and even xenophobia. And some have a decent chance of getting into Parliament.

Since 1918, the country has employed a preferential voting system: Voters rank the candidates they prefer from most to least, rather than simply checking a box for their first preference.

Candidates must get more than 50 percent of the total vote to be elected to the House of Representatives, where the majority party forms a government. To achieve this, candidates with the fewest votes are eliminated and the votes on those ballots are redistributed according to preference, a process that is repeated until a winner is produced.

In the Senate, candidates must receive a certain proportion of votes to be elected.

The system is designed to make sure that votes are not wasted, but it has also given minor parties more footing, experts say. Some have struck back-room deals with major parties that agree to give them preference in their “how to vote” guides.

While election analysts say that new rules adopted in 2016 may lead to a winnowing of these fringe players, some are still likely to be elected to the Senate through “protest” votes against the major parties. In the House of Representatives, the race seems likely to be close, meaning major parties are relying on their preference choices of minor groups to get them over the line.

What it all adds up to: If Australia ends up with a minority government, a conservative coalition might find itself beholden to populists and xenophobes, and a Labor coalition might have to make nice with marijuana legalizers and anti-vaxxers. — Livia Albeck-Ripka

At polling stations in former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s electorate of Wentworth, lines began to swell Saturday morning as volunteers, and at least one candidate, walked up and down beside voters, pitching their policies.

“If there is a change in government, it’s much better to have a strong independent person in government battling for you rather than someone who has to toe the party lines,” said one voter, Lauren Lee, who voted for the independent candidate Kerryn Phelps, saying she liked her progressive stances on climate change and refugees.

Ms. Lee said that she had voted for both the Labor and Liberal parties in the past, but that the party coup that deposed Mr. Turnbull last year had left many people in the area with a negative impression of politics.

In a by-election in October, voters in the suburban Sydney district chose Ms. Phelps over contenders from the major parties for the seat vacated by Mr. Turnbull. The Wentworth loss cost the current prime minister, Scott Morrison, his single-seat majority in Parliament, pushing him into a minority government.

Ms. Phelps, a medical doctor who was the first woman and the first lesbian to be elected president of the Australian Medical Association, ran a campaign highlighting her position as an alternative to the status quo. — Isabella Kwai and Jacqueline Williams

Kooyong, an affluent district east of downtown Melbourne, has been held by conservative politicians since the first federal election in 1901.

But at a local polling station in a primary school on Saturday morning, some longtime backers of the center-right Liberal Party — and others who expressed disenchantment with Australian politics — said that newcomer candidates promising action on climate change and other issues had changed their minds.

“The last two elections, I wrote on my ballot paper: I’m not voting for either of the major parties because of their treatment of refugees,” said Kate Robinson, 78, who said she was voting for the new Greens candidate Julian Burnside, a human rights lawyer.

Mr. Burnside, dressed in a gray suit with a kaffir lime leaf pinned to his lapel, stood in the line greeting voters. He and an independent candidate, Oliver Yates, were both campaigning on a primary platform of action against climate change.

But not all voters saw the new candidates as levelheaded alternatives to the major parties. “I believe it’s not time for change,” said Terry Winters, a Liberal voter and campaigner who has lived in Kooyong for three decades. — Livia Albeck-Ripka

At a polling station in the southern Sydney suburb of Hurstville, where nearly half of residents reported their heritage as Chinese, many voters and campaign volunteers could be heard conversing in Mandarin. There was no sign of a sausage sizzle — a quintessential Australian election tradition — but a lot of talk about Australian-Chinese relations.

Peter Bai, 41, cast his vote for the Liberal Party. “Liberal puts more emphasis on the economy, and has provided favorable policies for trade between China and Australia,” he said in Mandarin.

However, Mr. Bai, who works for a health care company that exports products to China, was worried about the Liberal Party’s foreign policy. “They have made strange remarks about matters like the South China Sea, which strained the bilateral relationship. It was completely unnecessary,” he said.

Anna Zhou, a 25-year-old accountant, said she looked forward to the friendlier approach to China promised by the Labor Party. “Does Australia really have a choice between China and the United States?” she asked.

“Geographically, it makes sense for us to be on good terms with China, though I understand in terms of defense we are aligned with the U.S.,” she said, adding, “We should stay in the middle.”

In this election, political parties prioritized reaching Chinese-Australian voters — there are more than a million people in Australia of Chinese descent — especially in swing seats with a significant Chinese-Australian population.

In the Melbourne district of Chisholm, voters will elect the first female Chinese-Australian member of the House of Representatives. The main candidates there for both major parties are Chinese-Australian women. — Vicky Xiuzhong Xu

On the island of Tasmania, a few races may signal the ultimate outcome of the federal election.

Two seats, in Braddon and Bass, are seen as “volatile” since no party has been able to hold on to them for long. In the last national election, in 2016, the Liberal Party lost those two seats and a third one in Tasmania. The fate of Labor Party candidates in Tasmania may be a national bellwether.

Another Tasmanian race worth paying attention to is the one in Clark, where an independent, Andrew Wilkie, has held the seat since wresting it from the Labor Party in 2010.

Mr. Wilkie is a former intelligence officer who quit in protest over Australia’s decision to join the United States in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. If he wins, he is likely to have a significant role in the next government if neither the Labor Party nor the conservative coalition of the Liberal and National parties garners enough votes to govern alone. — Jamie Tarabay

Want more Australia coverage and discussion? Sign up for the weekly Australia Letter, start your day with your local Morning Briefing and join us in our Facebook group.