Australian PM concedes election defeat as Labor looks likely to form government

Prime Minister Scott Morrison conceded defeat on Saturday after a federal election in Australia, and the opposition Labor Party was set to end nearly a decade of Tory rule, possibly with backing from pro-environment independents.

Morrison acted quickly after Saturday’s election, despite millions of votes still to be counted, as an Australian prime minister is due to attend a summit in Tokyo on Tuesday with US, Japanese and Indian leaders.

“Tonight I spoke to the Leader of the Opposition and the new Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese. And I congratulated him on his election victory tonight,” Morrison told supporters.

“I think it’s very important that this country has certainty. I think it’s very important that this country can move forward,” Morrison said.

Liberal Party loyalists react as they watch the election results on a large video screen at an event in Sydney on Saturday. (Mark Baker/Associated Press)

“And particularly during this week with the important meetings taking place, I think it’s vitally important that there is a very clear understanding of the government of this country.”

Albanese will be sworn in as prime minister, with his centre-left Australian Labor Party winning its first election victory since 2007.

Supporters react to election updates shown on a screen in Sydney on Saturday as they wait for Anthony Albanese, leader of the Australian Labor Party, to speak about the outcome of the country’s general election. (Jaimi Joy/Reuters)

In conceding defeat, Morrison said he would step down as leader of the Liberal Party of Australia, who was seeking a fourth three-year term.

The surrender ends eight years and nine months in power for Morrison’s conservative coalition. He became prime minister in 2018 after several leadership changes.

A “sense of common purpose”

Albanese said he wanted to bring Australians together as he made his first comments after Morrison’s announcement and nine years in opposition.

“I want to unite the country,” Albanese told reporters as he left his home late Saturday night to attend a Labor party celebration in Sydney.

“I think people want to come together, seek our common interest, look towards that sense of common purpose. I think people are tired of division, what they want is to come together as one nation, and I intend to lead that.”

Work focused on inflation, wages

Labor had promised more financial aid and a strong social safety net as Australia grapples with its highest inflation since 2001 and soaring property prices.

The party has also said it will raise the minimum wage – and on the foreign policy front it has proposed establishing a Pacific Defense School to train neighboring armies in response to China’s potential military presence on the Solomon Islands, at the gates of Australia.

Albanians vote in Sydney on Saturday. During the campaign, the Labor Party promised increased financial aid and a strong social safety net as Australia grapples with its highest inflation since 2001 and soaring property prices. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

He also wants to tackle climate change with a more ambitious 43% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

As Labor focused on soaring inflation and slow wage growth, Morrison made the nation’s lowest unemployment rate in nearly half a century the centerpiece of the final hours of his campaign.

At the start of the count on Saturday, Morrison’s coalition was on course to win 38 seats and Labor 71, while seven were unaligned lawmakers and 23 races were too close to be called.

Labor had yet to reach the 76 of the 151 lower house seats needed to form a government on their own. Final results could take time as the tally of a record number of mail-in votes is over. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, over 48% of Australia’s 17 million voters voted early or requested to vote by post.

Freelancers win

Small parties and independents seemed to garner votes from larger parties, increasing the likelihood of a minority government.

Partial results showed Morrison’s Liberal-National coalition was punished by voters in Western Australia and affluent urban seats in particular.

In at least five seats held by well-to-do Liberals, “teal independents” looked poised to win, exploiting voter anger over inaction on climate change after some of the worst floods and fires to ever hit Australia.

Early feedback suggested the Greens had also gained ground, looking to clinch up to three seats in Queensland State.