Australian federal election sees end to nine-year conservative government

Labor is projected to command 72 seats in the House of Representatives, while the Greens and Teal Independents candidates saw massive wins against Liberal strongholds.

Credit: SMH

Labor leader Anthony Albanese has become Australia’s 31st Prime Minister, signalling a left-wing turning point in national politics after almost a decade of Liberal rule. 

The Greens and Teal Independents have also secured an impressive number of seats, bagging several wins against Labor and Liberal incumbents. This surge against the two major parties cements climate policy as one of the defining issues of the 2022 election, with the LNP and ALP taking considerably modest emissions reductions targets into this election. 

As of midday today, Labor is projected to command 72 seats in the House of Representatives – four shy of an absolute majority, and up from 68 seats in 2019. In contrast, the LNP have had a bloodletting, with veteran ABC psephologist Antony Green declaring that it was “mathematically impossible” for the Coalition to form a majority government by 11pm last night.

Albanese, a lifelong local of Sydney’s inner-west, has held the seat of Grayndler since 1996. His victory marks a remarkable ascendancy for a man raised by a single mum who is a disability pensioner, in Camperdown public housing. 

Labor wins marginal seats from Liberals

Labor is set to win a number of crucial marginal electorates this Federal Election, including the inner-west Sydney seat of Reid, and the Melbourne seats of Chisholm and Higgins. Chisholm’s ALP candidate, Carina Garland, currently holds 57.6 per cent of the vote against former Liberal MP Gladys Liu. The presence of Labor state governments across the country may also have strengthened the ALP’s hand, as Western Australia, Victoria, and Queensland all saw swings towards the party. 

Mirroring Mark McGowan’s triumph a year ago, WA delivered four extra seats for the ALP compared to the 2019 election: Swan, Tangney, Hasluck and Pearce. Some of these seats saw swings towards the party exceeding 10 per cent. In addition, Moore’s LNP candidate Ian Goodenough is facing an intense contest with Labor for the seat formerly held by the Liberals with a margin of 11.6 per cent. 

Despite these gains for the ALP, the Liberals have strengthened their grasp on Tasmania, with Bass, Braddon and Lyons all recording swings against the ALP. Lyons may yet witness another Labor scalp as the seat remains too close to call. Additionally, the formerly-safe Labor seat of Fowler was lost to independent Dai Le in a spectacular defeat for former NSW Premier Kristina Keneally, who attracted significant controversy over being parachuted into the seat over Vietnamese-Australian lawyer Tu Le during preselections. Le, a former Liberal candidate, will be one of the first Vietnamese-Australians to sit in Canberra.  

Finally, electoral failure has once again befallen billionaire magnate Clive Palmer, who failed to secure a single seat despite pouring a staggering $100 million into ubiquitous yellow advertising. 

‘Greenslide’ and Teal Independents

The staggering progress of the Greens and Teal Independents in this year’s federal election spotlights nationwide concern over the past decade of climate inaction in Australia under the Coalition government. The LNP’s apathy towards renewable energy uptake, fulfilling its Paris Agreement commitments, and emergency responses to the recent bushfires and floods have undoubtedly prompted this shift away from the party in many ‘safe’ seats across the nation. 

In what party leader Adam Bandt dubbed a ‘Greenslide’, the Greens secured three lower house seats last night, with another likely on the way. Considering the party won just a single seat in 2019, in Bandt’s Melbourne home, this represents a massive victory. The Greens’ primary vote has also increased nationally by 1.9 per cent to 12.3 per cent, with the party attracting 2 million primary votes in total. 

Greens and Teal Independent votes surged in Liberal strongholds and areas badly affected by recent climate disaster, particularly southern Queensland. The Queensland Greens result contrasts sharply with 2019, where the state was the electoral centrepiece of the Federal LNP. The Liberals lost the seats of Ryan and Griffith, and Brisbane is currently on track to turn from Blue to Green. Notably, Ryan candidate Elizabeth Watson-Brown won with an impressive 11.2 per cent swing, ousting the LNP’s Julian Simmonds and ending 21 years of Liberal control there.

Teal Independents also pushed Liberal moderates for climate action in this election, gaining a total of ten seats so far. Of these, six seats were won from the Liberals – Wentworth, North Sydney, Mackellar, Kooyong, Goldstein, and Curtin. Another three were retained from the last election. 

Josh Frydenberg is projected to lose the blue-blooded Melbourne seat of Kooyong to Teal Independent Monique Ryan, a first since the seat’s Menzies-era conception (though a win for Frydenberg is still mathematically possible, it is highly unlikely). Similarly, independent Zali Steggall retained the Sydney seat of Warringah with an even higher margin than her 2019 victory against Tony Abbott, defeating controversial Liberal challenger Katherine Deves, whose rabid transphobic views attracted criticism from within the Liberal Party itself. 

Trent Zimmerman also lost the Liberal stronghold of North Sydney to Kylea Jane Tink, with Labor’s Catherine Renshaw also getting within striking distance of victory in the closely-fought race, while Allegra Spender defeated Liberal MP Dave Sharma in the East Sydney seat of Wentworth with 57 per cent of the vote after preferences. This makes Sharma the first Wentworth MP to lose his seat twice, having been beaten by Independent Kerryn Phelps in the 2018 Wentworth by-election.

What to expect from an Albanese Labor government? 

In his victory speech, Albanese promised a wave of change for the country, explicitly mentioning the party’s support of the Uluru Statement from the Heart in his Acknowledgement of Country.

“I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. And on behalf of the Australian Labor Party, I commit to the Uluru Statement From the Heart in full,” he said.

Under an Albanese Labor government, Australia can expect to see a constitutional referendum to enshrine a Voice in Parliament in  accordance with the Uluru Statement this parliamentary term. 

Should such a referendum pass, a constitutionally entrenched advisory body will take charge of advising parliament on policies affecting Indigenous communities, as well as constitutional recognition of Indigenous co-sovereignty of Australia. Albanese acknowledged the ALP’s Linda Burney as the new Indigenous Affairs Minister in his victory speech.

Albanese also promises that his government will end “the climate wars” – a pointed reference to the LNP and Murdoch media’s destructive politicisation of the climate crisis in the past decade. 

This election, the Greens promised to reduce carbon emissions by 75 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and reach net zero by 2035, while Teal Independents proposed similar targets, such as Zali Steggall’s proposed 60 per cent reduction. 

Labor’s commitment of a 43 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 is moderate by comparison. Though the ALP’s policy outperforms the LNP’s 26-28 per cent reduction target, a number of major environmentalist groups including Greenpeace, the Climate Council, the Australian Conservation Foundation, and GetUp have said that Labor’s target is too weak to prevent catastrophic climate change. Environmentalists will likely argue that the moderacy of the ALP’s climate policy compared to the 2019 Federal Election may have contributed to the Greens and Teal Independents surge. 

The nation will keenly await whether Labor can fulfil its ambition to “take advantage of the opportunity for Australia to be a renewable energy superpower”, or remain trapped in the purgatory of meagre climate action. Notably, Federal Labor received a significant amount of funding from fossil fuel groups in the 2020/21 financial year – at least $392,354. Squaring these competing interests will be an uphill challenge in the coming years for a party whose Left and Right factions are still divided by a large ideological chasm, and that must contend with the interests of workers in the resources sector.

Labor’s campaign largely centred on social welfare issues. Albanese’s slogan “Child Care. Medicare. Aged Care. Because Labor cares” would suggest we’ll see major governmental reforms to to the day to day support people will receive from Government in their lifetime. The NDIS will see a review into its operation, with Labor promising to get it “back on track”. Under the plan for cheaper child care, we can expect, in a few generations, for it to be the norm for any individual to have attended early childhood education, something which has previously been an early class divider, only available to those who can afford the soaring fees. The anxiety which exists around aged care is also expected to lift, with reforms such as nutrition standards and increasing the number of nurses to address the disturbing findings of the Royal Commission into aged care.

In a few days, Albanese will meet with the other leaders in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), which consists of Australia, India, Japan and the US, for the first time. It is easy to forget, amid electoral euphoria, that Ukraine remains locked in war with Russia, tensions between Australia and China are at an all-time high following Morrison’s hawkish strategies, and Australia is in the midst of a severe housing-affordability crisis, all while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to claim lives. 

Regardless, 2022’s Federal Election heralds a new era for Australian political history after almost a decade of Liberal dominance. The euphoria that erupted across the nation last night signals this renewed political optimism, pushed by a new generation of young voters.

“Tonight, Australians voted for change,” observed Albanese in his victory speech; while this promise is yet to be upheld, Albanese may indeed cement a powerful legacy of change for himself and this country. Change is certainly well overdue.

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