Prime Minister Scott Morrison has endured a bruising encounter with journalists as he winds up his six-week election campaign.
Mr Morrison was in Western Australia on Friday, where he was grilled about his perceived personal failings – a lack of empathy and being “a bulldozer” – as well as ongoing tricky issues for the Liberal Party.
They included questions about the Murugappan family – parents Priya and Nades, who came to Australia separately from Sri Lanka a decade ago, and their two Australian-born daughters. The family are living in Perth, unable to return to community support in Biloela because of four-year-old Tharnicaa’s visa situation.
Mr Morrison said on Thursday the family wasn’t owed protection. On Friday, he was asked if he could show empathy by urging Immigration Minister Alex Hawke to use his discretion to grant a visa to Tharnicaa, as it was “just one family”.
Mr Morrison said that decision lay with Mr Hawke, and turned questions around to “stopping the boats”.
“The most empathetic thing when it comes to border protection, is to keep our borders secure. I have been lectured by people over my entire political career about this issue. What I know is, what I did in 2013 with [then PM] Tony Abbott, put an end to the carnage. We got all the children out of detention centres,” he said.
He was also asked about the rise in Australians relying on foodbanks. Of a reported one million people seeking help every month, one in three have never previously needed to.
Mr Morrison responded with a defence of his government’s economic management – and its policy of allowing people to take money from their super to buy a home.
“Those who are facing that hardship will not be helped by a Labor government that can’t manage money. They won’t be helped by a Labor government that will have higher deficits, higher debt, putting more pressure on interest rates and on the cost of living. And slowing the economy with higher taxes,” he said.
“They will be helped by a government that knows how to help them –providing direct payments to pensioners, extending further tax relief to families – and is helping home buyers, as we’re standing right here today, by ensuring they can use their own resources to be able to get off the rental queues and get onto owning their own home, right here in suburbs just like this one.”
Mr Morrison was also asked about his confession to being aware he is sometimes a “bulldozer”, and his intention to change if the Coalition wins Saturday’s election. That led to the following exchange:
Journalist: “How can Australians trust this last-minute conversion when you have reneged on it in less than a week and there’s been no changes of policy or substance?”
Mr Morrison: “I just don’t agree with your assertion.”
Journalist: “What have you changed, then?”
Mr Morrison: “I don’t agree with how you have conceived the whole point I’ve been making.”
Journalist: “What have you changed in substance? What policy?”
Mr Morrison: “You have sought to repackage it for your own purposes.”
Journalist: “Help get things done.”
Mr Morrison: “You had your question.”
Journalist: “You have changed a single policy? Or substance?”
Mr Morrison: “You’re sounding like a bit of a bulldozer.”
Asked for his final pitch to voters, Mr Morrison returned to the economy.
“A strong economy means a stronger future. We cannot risk Labor with higher debt, higher deficits, which are only going to push up your cost of living and push up interest rates,” he said.
“We’ve come so far, now is not the time to turn back and risk Labor, but secure opportunities with a strong economy.”
Rare support for Albanese
Labor leader Anthony Albanese began Friday in Adelaide, where he was joined by former PM Julia Gillard.
It was a rare appearance from Ms Gillard – her first on the campaign.
“As you know I don’t do this much anymore. I never do it anymore but I have made particular exception today,” she said.
Campaigning alongside her former deputy on the eve of the election, Australia’s first and so-far only female prime minister had a direct message for women.
“I want to see for this country a government that cares about, values and includes women and I know that a government led by Albo will do precisely that,” she said.
“For Australian women, if you want to make a better choice, please tomorrow go to your polling stations and vote Labor and vote for Albo to be prime minister.”
Ms Gillard, who was PM during the last minority government, said Mr Albanese did not need any advice on dealing with a parliament without a majority party.
With the polls tightening and the prospect of a mixed parliament looming, Mr Albanese said Labor was seeking a majority government.
“It’s very clear that a whole lot of people who voted Liberal their whole lives have walked away from the Liberal Party,” he said.
“They feel their party has walked away from them, that the values that they hold about individual liberty have been trashed.”
An emotional Mr Albanese said his late mother would be “proud as punch” that he was on the cusp of becoming Australia’s next prime minister after his humble beginnings.
“The fact that young kid is now running for prime minister says a lot about her and her courage, but also says a lot about this country,” he said.
The Labor leader made the comments while campaigning in Adelaide on the last day before the election, visiting a school in the marginal seat of Boothby where he was mobbed by students.
After an election campaign that has, at times, been very personal, Mr Albanese was asked for his personal qualities that were not shared by Mr Morrison.
“I have integrity, and the capacity to take responsibility,” he said.
The Labor leader said he would visit four states on Friday – with Tasmania and Victoria on the agenda after South Australia. He will finish the day at home in Sydney.
Earlier, Mr Albanese said he had “nothing left in the tank” after the six-week campaign.