Labor has promised to reduce the cost of medicines on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, roll out new charging infrastructure for electric vehicles and focus on improving pay equity for women if Anthony Albanese defeats Scott Morrison on 21 May.

The Labor leader used the party’s official election campaign launch in Perth on Sunday to unveil a promise to reduce the cost of drugs on the PBS by $12.50. Albanese told the party faithful gathered at Optus Stadium that meant the maximum price for medicines for millions of Australians would be $30.

In addition to a shared equity scheme to improve housing affordability for low and middle income earners that was flagged in the lead-up to Sunday’s launch, Albanese said Labor would accelerate the rollout of charging infrastructure for EVs and make gender equity an objective of the Fair Work Act.

He said an Albanese government would use “all the tools in our power to close the gender pay gap”.

Rebooting the Labor campaign after a week off the hustings recovering from coronavirus, Albanese declared Australians deserved a government that would shape the future.

Watched on by the former Labor prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Paul Keating, as well as the Western Australian premier, Mark McGowan, and the newly elected South Australian premier, Peter Malinauskas, the federal Labor leader said after the challenges of the past three years – floods, fires and the pandemic – Australians had “earned a better future”.

Australians had “worked out” Scott Morrison, he said. “Australians understand we can’t bet our future on three more years of a prime minister who looks at every challenge facing our country and says that’s not my job,” the Labor leader said on Sunday.

“For a decade now, the Liberals and Nationals have treated governing as an inconvenience and public money as a political slush fund.”

Albanese said as prime minister he would not “run from responsibility” or treat every crisis as “a chance to blame someone else”.

“I will show up, I will step up, I will bring people together. I will lead with integrity and treat you with respect.”

He said if Australians wanted stronger universal healthcare, cheaper childcare, action on climate change, dignity and respect for older Australians – they needed to vote Labor. Albanese said Australians would have an opportunity on 21 May to end three terms of Coalition rule and “vote for hope and optimism over fear and division”.

Introducing the Labor leader at Sunday’s event, the party’s Senate leader, Penny Wong, said Australians deserved a government as decent as its people. She said it was time to end “a decade of disappointment”.

Polls suggest voters are yet to make up their minds about Albanese as the campaign enters its final weeks. Wong – one of Labor’s best-known figures – on Sunday characterised Albanese as “a man of courage and conviction, the most steadfast of friends, the toughest of fighters, and the kindest of hearts”.

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“I know no one braver for his cause, no one more reliable when you need him. He will stand with you when it is easy and when it is hard.”

Warming up for Albanese, McGowan quipped on Sunday: “Who would have thought that in a 12-month period, WA would play host to some of the biggest shows in Australia? The AFL grand final, the Brownlow, the rugby league State of Origin, the AFL Dreamtime game – and the Australian Labor party campaign launch.”

The WA premier raised laughs by pointing out that he and Albanese were in sync.

“We both caught Covid on the same day, we are both proud poodle owners – his is Toto, mine’s Georgie.

“Both of us have been on a diet for some time, and lost a fair bit of weight – but, no matter how hard we work at it, neither of us look like Peter Malinaskus.”

Labor held its official campaign in Perth for the first time since 1940 as part of an attempt to pick up three Liberal-held seats in the west – Swan (on a 3.2% margin), Pearce (5.2%) and Hasluck (5.9%). The party is also sandbagging the ultra-marginal seat of Cowan held by Anne Aly.

Albanese hopes electoral gains in WA will form the bedrock of Labor’s pathway to victory. McGowan on Sunday reached back to Labor’s history in the state.

He noted that WA had produced “two of our nation’s greatest citizens and prime ministers – John Curtin and Bob Hawke” – and noted that the Labor leader had always stood by the state “and supported us in the tough decisions we had to take” during the pandemic.

Liberals fear a number of metropolitan seats could fall to the “teal” independents on 21 May but MPs believe support is holding up for the government in the regions and outer suburbs.

Published opinion polls point to a Labor victory but there is still a chunk of voters who remain undecided as the campaign enters the final three weeks. The Guardian Essential poll points to a significant gender gap. Women are less inclined to approve of Morrison’s performance than Albanese’s.

The centrepiece of Sunday’s Labor launch was a $329m housing affordability package for low and middle income earners, which would see the commonwealth take a stake in properties to help get renters into home ownership.

After the Australian Bureau of Statistics confirmed last week that inflation was running at levels not seen for two decades, market analysts believe the Reserve Bank of Australia could raise the cash rate during the campaign for the first time since 2007.

Albanese declared on Sunday that Australia could do better than “three more years of a government that’s brought us skyrocketing costs of living and falling real wages”.


Katharine Murphy Political editor in Perth

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