Australia PM Scott Morrison loses national elections, labor party to take power

Morrison conceded defeat on Saturday night and congratulated Anthony Albanese on the victory for the Labor Party, which was closing in on a majority in the 151-seat parliament.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison leaves a polling station after casting his vote during the Australian general election in Sydney.(AFP)
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison leaves a polling station after casting his vote during the Australian general election in Sydney.(AFP)
Published on May 21, 2022 06:36 PM IST
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Australia’s Labor Party is set to take power for the first time since 2013, as voters booted out Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative government in a shift likely to bring greater action on climate change, women’s issues and anti-corruption efforts.

Morrison conceded defeat on Saturday night and congratulated Anthony Albanese on the victory for the Labor Party, which was closing in on a majority in the 151-seat parliament. The Australian Broadcasting Commission said Labor won at least 72 seats, compared with 52 for Morrison’s Liberal-National Coalition, with independents and third parties taking the rest.

“In this country, at a time like this, when we look around the world, and particularly when we see those in the Ukraine fighting for their very freedom and liberty, I think on a night like tonight we can reflect on the greatness of our democracy,” Morrison said in conceding the election. “I congratulate Anthony Albanese and the Labor Party and I wish him and his government all the very best.”

Environmental issues helped swing the vote, with climate-focused independents and the Green party -- which saw its best-ever result -- snatching once-safe seats from the two major parties. The most prominent lawmaker to fall was Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who was widely viewed as a future leader of the Liberal-National Coalition -- raising new questions about who will take the helm from Morrison.

Still, it wasn’t all good news for Labor. The party only won about 31.7% of the primary vote on the latest count, which would be its worst result in decades and the lowest margin for an incoming government since the end of World War II.

Albanese, a career politician with working-class roots, is poised to inherit an economy with record-low unemployment that is also facing the fastest price gains since June 2001. He’s promised to increase wages for workers, improve the social-safety net and do more to fight climate change in a nation that exports more fossil fuels than any country apart from Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Morrison’s coalition trailed the Labor Party in opinion surveys throughout the campaign as it vied for a fourth term in office, with the nation’s 26 million people becoming frustrated over his management of the pandemic and his handling of climate-change related natural disasters. In the final Newspoll survey before the election, Morrison’s net approval rating was nearly three times lower than his opponent.

Albanese will face an immediate foreign-policy test, as Australia’s leader is set to head to Tokyo to participate in meetings of the Quad alongside President Joe Biden, Japan’s Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The grouping of democracies has picked up momentum in recent years as a key bloc countering China’s growing economic and military might in the region.

Although Morrison sought to present Albanese as soft on China, the Labor party adopted a very similar policy to the government toward Australia’s largest trading partner. Ties between the nations have soured in recent years as Morrison called for a probe into the origins of Covid-19 and sought to stem Chinese political interference, leading to trade reprisals from Beijing.

China’s security pact with the Solomon Islands, which sits some 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) away from Australia, disrupted Morrison’s efforts to make national defense a key part of his campaign strategy. Labor described the announcement as Canberra’s worst foreign policy failure since World War II, with Albanese vowing to fix relations with the country’s Pacific neighbors.

While polling showed support for Labor’s campaign over the “cost of living crisis” in Australia, few inside Albanese’s team publicly predicted victory after the Coalition’s surprise come-from-behind win in 2019, which Morrison described as a “miracle.” Now the party can finally celebrate.

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