OPINION: From a Kiwi perspective, Australian politics can often look like an episode of American sitcom Veep: dominated by gaffes, stunts and infighting.
This six-week election has two main characters, called ScoMo (Scott Morrison, the leader of the Liberals) and Albo (Anthony Albanese, the Labor leader). And the delivery of such winning lines as, “I don’t hold a hose, mate”.
Come Saturday night, the odds are on the Labor Party to win. It continues to trend upwards in the polls, and polling in marginal seats has it sneaking in.
But the Aussie media has learnt its lesson on calling the result too early. In 2019, Labor beat Liberal in every two-party preferred poll. But ScoMo pulled off the miracle election, thanking the quiet Australians for their support.
Except now, the quiet Australians appear to be a lot less quiet. Covid lockdowns, slow vaccine rollouts and the cost of living have meant there are a lot of angry Australians out there, and their anger is directed at both major parties.
There has been unprecedented early voting. About 40% of people applied to cast their ballots early, but about a third of voters are still undecided just days out. And in Australia, voting is mandatory, so these people will vote.
The fragile nature of both major parties’ vote has led to the emergence of new power blocs inside and outside the parties.
In New Zealand, most factional divisions stay out of the limelight until they spew out in leadership contests. In Australia, factional fights on the front page are a normal part of any campaign.
In this one, the Liberal federal executive had to override standard candidate selection in key NSW seats, ending up in a fight all the way to the High Court.
There is also a new power bloc – the rise of the woman voter.
Like the quiet Australians generally, they are no longer quiet. Highlighted by a former Liberal party staffer who alleged rape, and a resulting cover-up of such allegations, women-centric issues have dominated political debate.
Whilst ScoMo, in the position of prime minister, has struggled to respond, this is not a Liberal issue. It is seen as a society issue and one that has coloured much of the campaign debate.
Labor has issued comments of support for these women, but it has not been able to provide concrete solutions.
And in a presidential-style campaign dominated by two men so blokey they must have nicknames, neither party is really able to articulate what will change.
Capitalising on these new power blocs are the so-called “teal candidates”. Almost all of them are women, standing in what were previously safe, wealthy seats held by moderate Liberals.
They are frustrated by what they perceive as a lack of movement from either party on issues such as climate change and are platforming them through standing.
Their presence is perceived as a condemnation of the Liberal Party, but they don’t provide a pathway to government for Labor and they distract from the issues Labor wants to be talking about.
There are also other non-teal independents. Building on the dissatisfaction with the major parties, they have galvanised support from people who previously voted only because they had to.
Most of these independents have ruled out any deals with the major parties ahead of Saturday, and this makes their impact a largely unknown factor.
For the teal candidates at least, if they are to succeed they will likely to do so at the cost of the more moderate Liberal party members – the voice they argue has been too minimised in policy settings.
Australia has a system of preferential voting: not quite a first-past-the-post system, but one that makes it important how voters order candidates on the ballot paper. In close elections this means candidates who get the most No 1 spots can be overrun by someone who has collected more 2s and 3s.
This makes it a valid pathway for independents to come through, but also makes it notoriously difficult to accurately poll those seats.
All this is before we have even touched on the Senate, which looks like it could be disrupted by independents as well.
The Labor Party faces an uncomfortable situation where, even if it is successful on Saturday, it won’t have the prime minister it really wants.
Albanese is the concession candidate after the much more internally popular Bill Shorten lost the unlosable election in 2019.
The Labor Party room has held it together for three years, as they knew a leadership shift would send it further backwards. But given the Australian love for leadership spills, support for Albo is not guaranteed, particularly if he ends up presiding over a hung parliament.
There are lessons for Kiwis in the Australian election.
Our politicians are facing the same issues – Covid lockdowns and slow vaccine rollouts have driven discontent in an environment where cost-of-living pressure grows daily.
But regardless of who wins on Saturday night in Australia (or most likely a bit later, given the prospect of extended counting over coming days), there seems to be little hope for Australians that anything is going to significantly change for the direction of their country.