Australian Economy

Albanese claims victory to become first Australian Labor prime minister in nine years

Anthony Albanese is on track to become Australia’s first Labor prime minister in almost a decade as Scott Morrison’s conservative Liberal-National coalition government conceded defeat after a huge swing against his party.

Unexpected wins by the Greens and a number of climate-focused independent candidates means that Albanese might have to run a minority government and seek the support of a new group of MPs who are not aligned to either of the two major parties.

Albanese, a veteran Labor politician, had secured at least 72 of the 76 seats needed to form a majority government by early on Sunday.

Speaking at a victory rally in Canterbury in his home territory of west Sydney, Albanese committed to govern with a spirit of unity and optimism as opposed to “fear and division”.

Drawing on his roots as the child of a single mother who grew up on a housing estate, the soon-to-be 31st prime minister of Australia said he wanted to deliver on his campaign promise to “build a better future”.

He highlighted climate change, renewable energy, Aboriginal rights and wage growth as key issues for his government.

“Tonight the Australian people have voted for change,” he told a euphoric crowd. “We have an opportunity to shape change rather than being shaped by it.”

The election came at a critical time for Australia, which is entering a period of economic uncertainty and rising geopolitical tension as China increases its influence in the Pacific.

Albanese’s approach towards Indo-Pacific politics will be immediately tested as he expects to be sworn in on Monday alongside his foreign minister Penny Wong in order to attend a planned Quad meeting alongside Joe Biden, the US president.

Wayne Swan, president of the Labor party and a former deputy prime minister, said it was “heartening” that voters had affirmed support for progressive values after nine years of conservative rule. “This election has seen a rejection of the Trump-like policies on climate and social policy,” he told the Financial Times.

The Labor victory belies the fact that direct support for both the major parties slumped to the lowest levels in more than 100 years as independents, the Greens and rightwing parties took around a third of the overall vote.

In his concession speech Morrison said it had been a “time of great upheaval”.

He addressed a party that lost much of its front bench on the night and saw its support in wealthy urban heartland seats crumble as voters switched to independent candidates standing on climate change and integrity platforms.

The biggest shock of the night was Liberal treasurer and deputy leader Josh Frydenberg’s loss in the traditionally ultra-safe seat of Kooyong in Melbourne. It is the former seat of Robert Menzies, the founder of the modern Liberal party and Australia’s longest serving prime minister.

Frydenberg had been talked about as a likely future leader of the party and a potential prime minister.

He was defeated by Monique Ryan, a doctor and one of the so-called “teal independents” who ran in traditionally safe conservative seats on a platform of climate action, anti-corruption and gender equality. These independents won at least five traditionally safe Liberal seats.

The pro-business, pro-climate “teal” candidates, named for the colour of their branding which is between conservative blue and environmentalist green, will now represent some of the wealthiest electorates in Sydney and Melbourne.

Labor had their best result in Western Australia, where they picked up several seats from the Liberals after a swing of around 10 per cent. This offset their failure to pick up two critical seats in Tasmania where the Liberal party held its ground.

Morrison, whose coalition had been in government for a decade, was seeking to become the first prime minister to win a second term since John Howard but trailed his rival in the polls right up to election day.

He confronted his unpopularity with voters by promising to change his “bulldozer” style, and launched a last-ditch housing policy aimed at wooing younger voters, but it did not prove enough.

In Melbourne, “teal independents” won two traditionally conservative seats, while Labor won the traditionally ultra-safe Liberal seat of Higgins — which covers Melbourne’s most exclusive suburb Toorak — for the first time.

In Sydney, “teal” candidates won the harbourside seats of Warringah, North Sydney and Wentworth, three of the wealthiest electorates in the country that had been the seats of two former Liberal prime ministers, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull.

In Queensland, which has been the scene of flooding in recent months, the Greens performed unexpectedly well, winning the Brisbane seat of Griffith.

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