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Australia's Liberal Party retains power in shock election win over Labor rivals

Just under 17 million people cast their vote across the country.

A voter casts their ballot at the Town Hall in Sydney.
A voter casts their ballot at the Town Hall in Sydney.

Updated May 18th 2019, 8:11 PM

AUSTRALIA’S RULING CONSERVATIVE coalition defied expectations to retain power in national elections, prompting Prime Minister Scott Morrison to declare: “I have always believed in miracles!”

“How good is Australia?” a jubilant Morrison shouted, after coming into office nine months ago in a party coup against his moderate predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull.

While it remained unclear if Morrison’s Liberal party and their rural-based National party partners would win enough seats to form a majority government, the leader of the main opposition Labor party conceded defeat shortly before midnight.

“It is obvious that Labor will not be able to form the next government,” party leader Bill Shorten told stunned supporters in Melbourne.

“In the national interest, a short while ago I called Scott Morrison to congratulate him,” Shorten said, adding that he would also stand down as leader in the wake of the defeat.

The result was a monumental upset and a failure by pollsters, who had for months predicted a comfortable victory for Labor after six years in the opposition.

Some bookies had paid out early expecting a coalition defeat and all but the most ardent partisans had thrown in the towel. 

The results appeared to show a fractured electorate with minor populist and right-wing parties playing a role in tipping the balance in favour of the conservatives in key districts in the northeast of the country.

‘Snatched a win’

Many of the laurels for victory will go to Morrison, who just weeks ago looked set for an electoral drubbing.

He closed the gap with a negative campaign and backing from the country’s biggest media organisation – owned by Rupert Murdoch – by targeting older, wealthier voters concerned over Labor plans to cut tax loopholes in order to fund spending on education, healthcare and climate initiatives.

“Labor campaigned hard on a big target strategy with a series of key tax concessions, that ultimately seem not to have resonated with voters,” said Rob Manwaring, a political lecturer at Flinders University in Adelaide.

“Despite the wider fragmentation of the right in Australia, they have snatched a seeming win,” he told AFP, calling the coalition victory “extraordinary and surprising”.

Climate change may also have played a part, and it was suggested before the election that the result could have been the first in the world to have been as a result of environmental issues.

Australia is one of the most vulnerable of all developed nations to climate change, and a season of record floods, wildfires and droughts brought the issue from the political fringes to the centre of the campaign.

In northern Sydney, former prime minister Tony Abbott – who once described climate change as “crap” – lost a seat he has held for a quarter century to independent challenger Zali Steggall, a lawyer and Olympic medallist in Alpine skiing.

While admitting his own defeat, mainly over the climate issue, Abbott claimed there had been a “realignment” in Australian politics with Liberals winning more of the working class vote, adding: “I’m not going to let one bad day spoil 25 years”.

- © AFP 2019

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