Australia election: conservative government voted out after nearly a decade

·5 min read
<span>Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

Australia’s rightwing Coalition government has lost power after nearly a decade in office, with Saturday’s election showing a sharp shift to progressive parties that will result in a Labor government under Anthony Albanese – though he may need the support of climate-focused independents or the Greens.

The Liberal party leader, Scott Morrison, conceded defeat just before 11pm AEST on Saturday, and announced he would step down as leader of his party.

“We’ve seen in our own politics a great deal of disruption as the people have voted today with major parties having one of the lowest primary votes we’ve ever seen,” Morrison told supporters at his election night reception in Sydney.

“I know about the upheaval that’s taking place in our nation. And I think it is important for our nation to heal and to move forward,” Morrison said.

While the Liberal-National coalition lost seats to Labor, independents and Greens, the Labor opposition failed to sweep to power in its own right, winning just 31.8% of the primary vote when counting stopped for the night at midnight on Saturday. It was not apparent it could win a majority of seats to be able to claim victory – which would have been its first since 2007.

The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, will be the new prime minister, but it remains to be seen whether he will need the support of independent or minor party MPs, who may have won as many as 16 seats between them.

Albanese told his supporters in Sydney his government would be “as courageous and hard working and caring as the Australian people”.

“I want to find that common ground where together we can plant our dreams. To unite around our shared love of this country, our shared faith in Australia’s future, our shared values of fairness and opportunity, and hard work and kindness to those in need,” Albanese said.

Related: Teal independents punish Liberal moderates for inaction on climate crisis and integrity commission

The biggest surprise of the night was the surge in support for the Greens. By Saturday evening, the party – which has struggled to win more than the one seat it first picked up more than a decade ago – was on track to win as many as three more, all in progressive areas of Brisbane. It also looked likely to increase its strength in the upper house, the Senate, which may also have a rare progressive majority composed of Labor, the Greens and the former Australian rugby union captain and environmental activist David Pocock, who was on course to win one of the two Senate seats in the Australian Capital Territory.

While both major parties were at pains throughout the campaign not to appear overly ambitious on climate action, the legacy of recent natural disasters across several states, including deadly bushfires and floods, appear to have resonated with many voters.

Labor’s target of cutting emissions by 43% by 2030 was more ambitious than the Coalition’s goal of a 26-28% reduction, but less than what the independents and Greens were demanding, and below what scientists claimed was needed.

However when declaring victory on Saturday evening, Albanese said “together we can end the climate wars”, and said Australia can be a “renewable energy superpower”.

“Together we can work in common interests with business and unions to drive productivity, lift wages and profits. I want an economy that works for people, not the other way around,” Albanese said.

Morrison’s Coalition appeared to have lost several seats to the “teal independents” – candidates running in traditionally safe inner-city Liberal party seats on a strong climate action platform, some backed by substantial funds from the Climate 200 organisation.

Many adopted the colour teal, nodding both to the traditional Liberal blue and their green credentials, and performed well in seats in affluent parts of Melbourne and Sydney.

Early results indicated the teal independent movement could have taken as many as five seats from the government, cutting a swathe through the moderate faction of the Liberal party.

Prominent government MPs who fell included the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, who was all but certain to lose the wealthy Melbourne seat of Kooyong to the independent Monique Ryan.

During the campaign, several of those facing challenges from independents warned supporters frustrated with the Liberal party’s position on climate that their ousting would only serve to shift the party further to the right.

Rather than shift policy to appeal to moderate Liberals concerned about climate, Morrison was seen to focus on voters in outer metropolitan, regional and mining seats, some former Labor strongholds, others held by the Nationals.

With Morrison now standing down and Frydenberg defeated, the most obvious candidate to become Liberal leader is the hard right Queenslander Peter Dutton, who survived a scare in his own seat.

Albanese, who made much of his upbringing as the child of a single mother in Sydney public housing throughout the campaign, is a party stalwart from Labor’s left faction, although far from a radical firebrand.

Related: Australian Greens hail ‘best result ever’ with dramatic gains in lower house and Senate

A near-fatal car crash near his home last year made him refocus his life, he says, and he has since made a point of his healthier diet and lifestyle, while acceding to superficial image changes.

His campaign kept its policy offering to a minimum after the ambitious program of his predecessor, Bill Shorten, was effectively torn down by Morrison at the 2019 election.

Throughout the campaign, major parties sought to address the spiralling cost of living, including centrepiece policies to help first home buyers into the market.

While Morrison sought to allow people to access their retirement benefits early to pay for a home, Albanese put forward a plan for the government to contribute to the purchase price of a home in exchange for an ownership stake.

Foreign policy, and Australia’s role in the pacific, also featured heavily in the campaign, after the Solomon Islands signed a security pact with China in late April.

Labor seized on this development and sought to link it with anger among Pacific nations at the reputation of Australia as a laggard on climate action that developed during Morrison’s time as leader.

Albanese is expected to be swiftly sworn in as prime minister, before travelling to Tokyo on Tuesday, where he will meet the US president Joe Biden, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, and Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida.

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