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Canberra, May 9: Australia’s opposition Labor Party has increased its polling lead over the incumbent government less than two weeks before the May 21 general elections.

According to the latest Newspoll, 39 per cent of voters now intend to vote for the Labor Party as their first preference, up from 38 per cent at the start of May, and 35 per cent for the governing Coalition, down from 36 per cent, reports Xinhua news agency.

It represents the biggest lead the Labor Party has held over the governing Coalition since the start of the election campaign and would mark a 12-point swing in the opposition’s favor after losing the primary vote 41-33 at the 2019 election.

As a result, the Labor Party now leads the governing Coalition 54-46 on a two-party preferred basis compared to 53-47 on May 1.

While the election day is not officially until May 21, pre-polling stations across the country opened on Monday, offering Australians the opportunity to vote early.

The poll was conducted after the central bank, the Reserve Bank of Australia, increased the target cash rate for the first time in 11 years to 0.35 per cent in a major blow to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s campaign, which has largely been built on economic austerity.

Newspoll found that Morrison’s personal approval rating has fallen, with the portion of voters choosing the incumbent as their preferred Prime Minister falling from 45 to 44 per cent.

In comparison, Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese’s rating increased three points to 42 per cent, closing the gap to the narrowest it has been in a month.

Responding to the figures, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said polls can be “very wrong”.

“Australia should want a prime minister that knows what he is doing and not someone who stumbles and fumbles around policy questions,” he told local media on Monday.

“We have managed to come out in a strong position in trying times and that is a testament to Scott Morrison’s leadership.”

The Newspoll data was published during the second leaders’ debate between Morrison and Albanese.

The leaders clashed over who is better prepared to tackle rising energy costs, cost of living concerns and manage the economy.

It was declared a tie, with Morrison and Albanese receiving 50 percent of the vote from participants in a poll run by host broadcaster Nine.

Forty-six per cent said they expect the Labor Party to win the election and 39 per cent the governing Coalition.

Morrison was widely criticised early in 2021 for suggesting that the vaccine rollout was “not a race” amid a nationwide supply shortage.

“We had our setbacks, but we came back, we got the vaccines and we now have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, as well as one of the stronger economies and one of the lowest death rates from Covid,” he said on Sunday night.

Source: IANS