It has been the most surprising result in Australian politics since 1993, when John Hewson’s Liberals lost the so-called “unlosable election” to incumbent Labor Prime Minister, Paul Keating. The Liberal Party-National Party Coalition has been returned for a third term in government, on the back of a great political performance from the Hon Scott Morrison MP as Prime Minister.
Less than nine months ago, Mr Morrison replaced Hon Malcolm Turnbull in the top job after internal tensions within the Liberal Party boiled over. Racked by divisions, the Coalition’s polling numbers nose-dived. In fact, for the entire time between the previous federal election in July 2016 and Saturday’s election, the Coalition never led Labor in the fortnightly Newspoll, yet it has been successful in “the only poll that counts”, the election. With not one opinion poll predicting the result, questions are now being asked about their accuracy.
Opposition Leader Shorten to resign as Labor leader
A shell-shocked Labor leader, Hon Bill Shorten MP has indicated he will not be a contender in the next ballot for the leadership of the federal Parliamentary Labor Party, but that he will remain as a member of Parliament – at least for the time being.
With 76 seats needed for an absolute majority in the new House of Representatives, at the time of writing, the ABC had the Coalition with 77 seats, Labor 65 seats and independents/minor parties with six seats. There are still three seats in doubt. In some of these three, the Coalition is leading and, in others, Labor is ahead. The final results of these seats might not be known for a few days, given some 4 million votes were cast ahead of election day.
Whatever the outcome of seats still ‘in doubt’, the Coalition is set to form a majority government and will not rely on the support of independents and minor parties in the lower house. The political career of former Prime Minister, Hon Tony Abbott is over after he was defeated by independent challenger (and former alpine skier) Ms Zali Steggall in the northern Sydney seat of Warringah. The other five independents/minor party representatives who have been elected are Mr Adam Bandt MP (Greens – Melbourne, Vic), Mr Andrew Wilkie MP (Independent – Clark, Tas), Hon Bob Katter MP (Katter’s Australian Party – Kennedy, Qld), Ms Helen Haines (Independent – Indi, Vic) and Ms Rebekha Sharkie MP (Centre Alliance – Mayo, SA).
Former Independent MP, Mr Rob Oakeshott failed in his bid to re-enter Parliament. The independent member for Wentworth in NSW, Dr Kerryn Phelps AM MP, has lost her seat to the Liberals.
Where the election was won and lost
At an event in late 2018, Mr Morrison quoted Sir John Carrick, a World War II soldier who later became the General Secretary of the NSW Liberal Party from 1948-1971 and then a Senator/Minister, as saying if you are going to win a federal election, you need to be successful in the northern states of Queensland and NSW – and that’s exactly what Mr Morrison did.
In fact, the result in Queensland was devastating for Labor – on a two-party preferred basis, it suffered a swing against it in Queensland in the order of 4%, rendering it impotent in the Coalition marginal seats it was targeting. This included Minister Peter Dutton’s marginal seat, where Mr Dutton has, in fact, been returned by increasing his vote. In NSW, the Coalition also performed well in almost all key marginal seats.
The predicted significant gains for Labor in Victoria and WA never really materialised and in Tasmania, the Liberals have picked up at least one seat.
Major reasons for the surprise outcome
Labor’s proposed policy changes were one of the major reasons for the surprise election result. Specifically, a majority of Australians were not convinced that the Opposition’s plans to roll back negative gearing on properties were positive for the housing market and the reductions in franking credits and other superannuation changes spooked many senior Australians at the ballot box.
On climate change, Labor’s higher emissions reduction target, which the Government branded as economically irresponsible, could also have been a factor. And then there is Mr Shorten himself. The election result, together with his unpopularity as a preferred leader in opinion polls, indicated that not enough Australians were comfortable with him becoming Prime Minister. By contrast, commentators widely noted Mr Morrison displayed strong leadership and energy for almost the entire election campaign.
What they said
Prime Minister Morrison:
“I have always believed in miracles!”
(and, on aspirational Australians) “These are the ‘quiet Australians’ who have won a great victory.”
“To Australians who supported Labor, I know that you are all hurting and I am too.”
As Mr Abbott noted in his concession speech on election night, there is a realignment of politics taking place in Australia. Specifically, previously safe Liberal seats in affluent areas (e.g. Bradfield and Mackellar in northern Sydney and Higgins and Goldstein in Melbourne) all saw swings away from the Liberals. In contrast, the Liberals performed well in seats centred on what have, traditionally, been more working-class or middle-class areas, including areas where Labor expected to win seats from the Liberals.
Another strong message was the 22% vote that Pauline Hanson’s One Nation attracted in the usually safe labor coal-mining seat of Hunter in regional NSW, where the sitting Labor member, Shadow Minister Hon Joel Fitzgibbon MP, suffered a 14% drop in his primary vote. This was almost certainly because of Labor’s anti-coal views.
The final result for Senate seats is a long way from being settled, however, recent voting reforms mean a returned Coalition Government might find it slightly easier to secure the support of enough cross-benchers for legislation which isn’t supported by Labor or the Greens, once the new Senate takes its place in Parliament after 1 July.
Other possible outcomes in the Senate include the return of Ms Jacqui Lambie in Tasmania, while high-profile candidates, Senator Derryn Hinch and Mr Clive Palmer might have missed out.
The election result will almost certainly give Mr Morrison far greater authority within the Coalition, which, in the first instance, he will use to reshape his Ministry. With previous leaders Abbott and Turnbull no longer in Parliament, he can expect more “clear air” to prosecute the policy agenda he outlined in the Federal Budget immediately before the election, which is designed to strengthen Australia’s economy.
In the Opposition camp, Hon Anthony Albanese MP has declared himself as a contender for the leadership. Although Hon Chris Bowen MP and Hon Tanya Plibersek MP were considered likely contenders, both have ruled themselves out of the race and no other Labor Member of Parliament has confirmed their candidacy. Mr Shorten will remain as interim leader while the process of appointing new Labor leader takes place.
The next scheduled Parliamentary sitting day (for both houses) is Monday, 3 June, however, there is a chance that sitting won’t resume until Monday, 17 June as Mr Morrison leads ministerial and machinery-of-government changes.