Australia’s opposition Labor Party will form the next government after almost a decade out of power, with voters across the spectrum rejecting Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative Liberal-National coalition.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese, who grew up the son of a single mother on a Sydney public housing estate, will be the country’s next prime minister.
“My mother dreamt of a better life for me, and I hope my journey in life inspires Australians to reach for the stars,” he told a jubilant crowd of Labor supporters just before midnight Saturday.
“I say to my fellow Australians, thank you for this extraordinary honour. Tonight the Australian people have voted for change. I am humbled by this victory and I’m honoured to be given the opportunity to serve as the 31st Prime Minister of Australia.”
He promised action on health care, corruption and the environment – including making Australia “a renewable energy superpower” – and vowed to give Indigenous people a voice in parliament.
Conceding defeat an hour earlier, Mr. Morrison described the results as “humbling” and said Australians “have delivered their verdict.”
While Mr. Albanese’s Labor will be the largest party in parliament, whether he forms a majority or minority government remains to be seen, due to a nationwide swing towards climate-focused independent candidates and smaller parties.
In one of the most dramatic results of the night, Treasurer and Liberal deputy leader Josh Frydenberg appeared to be on track to lose his seat to independent Monique Ryan, one of a number of “teal wave” candidates who have attracted more conservative-leaning voters frustrated with government scandals and lack of action on the environment.
Though often bearing the brunt of climate change – suffering from some of its worst-ever wildfires and floods in recent years – Australia can be seen as remarkably detached from environmental politics, with neither major party making climate a key plank in this campaign.
“Teal wave” candidates, named for their campaign colour, bet that voters were in fact invested in this issue and have been proven correct, picking up a number of former Liberal seats. Also benefitting from a nationwide shift away from the major parties were the Greens, who doubled their number of seats in the lower house and also made gains in the Senate.
Greens leader Adam Bandt said his party was “on track for our best result ever.”
“This is a Greens-slide,” he wrote on Twitter. “People have backed us in record numbers and delivered a massive mandate for action on climate and inequality.”
As well as his climate inaction, Mr. Morrison appears to have suffered due to his unpopularity with women, with Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham telling the ABC that gender was “clearly a factor” in the election result.
Last year, former Liberal Party staffer Brittany Higgins alleged that she was raped in Parliament House, setting off a wave of revelations. An independent inquiry subsequently found that sexual harassment was rife in parliament and other government offices, with many women saying lawmakers were among the worst offenders.
As results rolled in Saturday, Janine Hendry, who organized marches attended by tens of thousands in the wake of the scandal, said “the women of Australia have come together.”
“We have voted for integrity, equality and our climate,” she wrote on Twitter. “It’s time now to move toward greater inclusiveness and equality.”
Australian voters rank candidates under a preferential system, which – unlike Canada’s first-past-the-post model – enables people to choose independent candidates and those from smaller parties without fear of wasting their vote.
While polls consistently showed Labor marginally ahead of the Coalition throughout the campaign, Mr. Morrison defied predictions in 2019 to pull off a “miracle” victory, leaving few confident in counting him out until all the votes were cast.
He will now bear the brunt of a furious Liberal Party, which had been in government since 2013. Mr. Morrison said he would resign as leader after conceding defeat Saturday night, adding he took responsibility for the Coalition’s poor performance.
“That is the burden and that is the responsibility of leadership,” he said.
With rising star Mr. Frydenberg likely leaving parliament, the most likely next Liberal leader is arch-conservative Peter Dutton, who retained his Queensland seat. Speaking at his own muted victory event, Mr. Dutton said the party had “suffered a terrible day today.”
“We live in a wonderful country and we have many challenges ahead as a country,” he added.
China was the dominant foreign policy issue in the campaign, though there is little difference between the two major parties in how they would approach Beijing.
Mr. Morrison had assumed that a so-called “khaki election” – one focused on national security issues – would benefit him, only to be caught off guard by a security pact signed by China and Australia’s neighbour, the Solomon Islands. Mr. Albanese accused the prime minister of having allowed Beijing to gain ground in Canberra’s backyard, saying the deal was a “massive foreign policy failure” for Mr. Morrison.
One of Mr. Albanese’s first duties as prime minister will be to join the leaders of the United States, India and Japan in Tokyo on Tuesday for a meeting of the Quad, the increasingly important alliance which some have said has the potential to become an “Asian NATO” and an important counterbalance to China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific.
Voting is compulsory in Australia, with some 17 million people expected to have taken part in Saturday’s election, queuing at polling sites where volunteers cooked “democracy sausages,” served in a slice of bread and topped with onions.
In the lower House of Representatives, all 151 seats were up for grabs, while voters were also choosing 40 seats in the 76-member Senate.
More than half of the votes had already been cast by Friday evening, with a record eight million early in-person and postal votes, the Australian Electoral Commission said.
With reports from Salmaan Farooqui and Reuters.