Australia returns Liberal National Coalition to power in historic third term election win
Morrison on track to win outright majority in Parliament
Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared on Saturday night that he believed in miracles, and it was a miracle he delivered for the Liberal National Coalition, winning an expected 77 seats of the 151 seats in the House of Representatives to secure an outright majority to form government for the next three years.
For Scott Morrison’s Coalition, winning the federal election seemed somewhere between highly unlikely and outright off the table as recently as Saturday afternoon. Hours before polls closed, a raft of media outlets were reaffirming their predictions of a Labor victory when exit polls showed the Opposition ahead 52 – 48. Labor had won 55 Newspolls in a row leading into Saturday’s vote, including every Newspoll since the last election.
With less than a year in the role as leader, it was a win for Morrison that surprised even the most experienced political pundits, who still maintained Labor would win, right up until the results started rolling in. Morrison credited the win to “the quiet Australians” declaring it was about “every single Australian who depends on their government to put them first.” Opposition leader Bill Shorten, in his concession speech, stood down as leader declaring Labor “are a resilient and proud movement (who) never give up.”
But polling companies and betting agencies are being touted as the real losers of this election, with many likening their failure to predict the outcome as a ‘Trump and Brexit’ scale mistake. Major national polling companies such as Ipsos, Roy Morgan, ReachTel and Newspoll are facing calls for greater transparency after consistently predicting Labor at 51.7 to 48.3 in front on a two-party preferred basis in the lead up to election day. They also underestimated the Coalition’s primary vote by around 3 points, and the 2.9 per swing in Queensland. Sportsbet’s decision to pay out early on Labor’s short odds to win was a costly one, with $1.3 million paid out before election day, and an estimated $3 million paid out in total following the Coalition win.
Once the Australian Electoral Commission declares the results of the final seats still in doubt, it is expected Federal Parliament will return in late June to legislate the tax cuts foreshadowed as a priority by the Coalition in the April 2 Budget, to take effect on July 1.
How Labor lost an unlosable election
Labor sitting ahead in the polls, the party was considered a ‘sure thing’ as Australians entered the polling booths on Saturday.
Even though Bill Shorten did have a consistently unfavourable rating as preferred Prime Minister compared with Scott Morrison, it’s fair to say that in communications terms, Labor’s ambitious change agenda was a lot for people to digest and understand. The Coalition’s simple and targeted messaging was much more effective and resonated well with voters. Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen conceded, “when you’ve got such a large agenda, it’s sometimes hard to explain all of the details to all of the people who benefit.”
Labor’s aggressive tax plans, franking credit policy and class war rhetoric arguably reflected a misunderstanding of the broad base of Australian working families whose votes demonstrated increasingly aspirational views.
The franking credit plan, coined a ‘retiree tax’, also hit hard in Queensland and Tasmania. Despite Labor’s consistent lead in the polls ahead of the election, Bill Shorten never managed to outpoll Scott Morrison as preferred Prime Minister. Whilst the margins of these figures closed in the final week of the election, representing only a small gap between himself and Morrison, he was unable to win over the Australian people. Scott Morrison led the Coalition’s campaign in an almost presidential style, focusing on his strong economic management credentials and commitment to tax cuts. The strategic decision of the Coalition to leverage the popularity of Morrison over Shorten ultimately proved more successful than Labor’s change agenda. In addition, Clive Palmer’s $80 million spend on advertising for his United Australia Party against Bill Shorten worked strongly in the Coalition’s favour to scare voters away from Labor.
I wish we could have done it for Bob. But it was not to be. Labor’s next victory will belong to our next leader and I’m confident that victory will come at the next election.
- BILL SHORTEN MP, FORMER OPPOSITION LEADER OF THE LABOR PARTY
Spotlight on Queensland: Conservative powerhouse of Australia
Queensland was arguably the decisive state for the Coalition. Labor expected to earn the support of several Queensland electorates by focusing on an environmental agenda. However, the party is now only expected to hold 5 of Queensland’s 30 electorates, with Labor’s primary vote plunging 4.29 per cent, cementing Queensland as the conservative powerhouse state of Australia.
At the centre of the debate in Queensland was the Adani coal mine. Inner-city seats strongly objected to the mining proposal, but regional Queensland determinedly supported it. Labor struggled to align with a single narrative regarding the controversial project – jobs for workers in North Queensland, or its environmentalist agenda for inner-city Brisbane. Queenslanders’ fears over job security appear to have contributed to the surprising swing against the Labor party on election day. Labor also largely underestimated the influence of the preferences from minor parties such as One Nation and the United Australia Party which saw their primary share reach more than 20 per cent.
In North Queensland where the Adani issue dominates, LNP MPs Michelle Landry (Capricornia), George Christensen (Dawson) and Ken O'Dowd (Flynn) recorded swings of up to 15 per cent to transform their ultra-marginal electorates into comfortably safe seats. Labor also felt the voters' wrath, with the previously marginal seats of Herbert and Longman reverting strongly back to the Coalition.
Back in Brisbane, Labor’s plan to axe tax refunds for franking credits seems to have unsettled many, particularly retirees in the outer-Brisbane suburbs within the electorates of Petrie, Dickson and Longman.
The most high-profile scalp Labor was hoping to claim, was that of erstwhile Liberal leadership contender Peter Dutton, who sat on a slim margin in Dickson. Despite a large Labor war chest, a concerted campaigning effort from activist group GetUp, and a scathing attack on Mr Dutton from former Prime Minister Paul Keating — who urged voters to “drive a political stake through his dark political heart” — the Liberal member held on. The result was emblematic of what occurred across Queensland.
The power of the marginal seat strategy
Marginal seats across the country were targeted by both sides of politics, however the most significant result from this strategy was in Queensland, with the Coalition delivering a 4.31 per cent state-wide swing against Labor, leaving the party with just a handful of seats in the state, all of which are in Brisbane.
Following last year’s emphatic state election victory, Victoria was seen as the state that would deliver the election for Labor, but instead it delivered a boon for the Liberals. Flinders, Deakin, Kooyong, Chisholm, Higgins and Corangamite were all expected to be in play for Labor, and yet most held firm with the Liberals. Despite increasing its two-party-preferred vote in Victoria, Labor suffered from a similar issue in Victoria as it did in Queensland: a lack of a coherent economic growth message. The Coalition’s simple economic messaging targeting key seats cut through just enough to hold the line.
In NSW, the most high-profile loss was that of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in his formerly safe seat of Warringah to independent Zali Steggall. Despite this, and a 2.3 per cent fall in the two-party-preferred vote for the Coalition, the key marginal seats of Reid and Banks are expected to stay in Liberal hands. The marginal electorate of Lindsay, previously held by Emma Husar for Labor by a slim margin of 1.1 per cent, is also a well-fought win for the Liberals, with Melissa McIntosh on track to claim the seat with a margin of over 4 per cent, offsetting the loss of Gilmore to Labor’s Fiona Phillips.
This is also an opportunity for a new beginning in Australian politics. A beginning for honesty and ... respecting government. We all benefit from the diversity of opinions, but we must all respect one another.
- ZALI STEGGALL, NEW INDEPENDENT MP FOR WARRINGAH
What can we expect from the Morrison Government?
According to The Australian Financial Review’s Political Editor Phil Coorey, other than income tax cuts announced in the budget and acting on the banking royal commission findings, there isn’t going to be much for this Government to do in the near future.
Importantly, Coorey notes that Morrison has already ruled out further changes to company tax, energy policy and industrial relations – three areas that caused significant in-fighting within the Government during the previous parliament. So, it’s quite possible that the policy and regulatory landscape in Australia, especially for businesses, won’t change that much in the near-term.
What is clear is that the Government will likely act quickly on its promises to implement major personal tax cuts to middle income earners and deliver its campaign promise of a generous first home buyer scheme. Last week, the Government also announced that it could find $1.5 billion over the next four years through efficiency dividends in the public sector.
Whereas Labor campaigned on a vision for reform and major changes to the way Australians live their lives, the Government put its reputation for being better economic managers front and centre and ran highly successful scare campaigns on key Labor policies.
Morrison repeated that he wanted “to keep the promise of Australia to all Australians” and provide a “fair go for those who have a go” at almost every opportunity, creating a narrative that the Coalition would help voters realise their personal aspirations.
Clearly this resonated with an electorate that was already suspicious of Labor’s big reform agenda, but how this plays out in Scott Morrison’s own agenda for the 46th Parliament of Australia remains to be seen.
While Morrison will still have to contend with a crossbench, his job will be made a lot easier with an expected majority and the addition of Coalition ‘friendly’ independents and minor parties. But the Government will still have to take into account their wishes, and the reasons the electorate voted them in. Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos summed this up on the ABC on Saturday, saying even with the win, the Liberals and National Coalition will need to regroup, listen to the concerns of the constituents and revisit its policies.
One thing is for certain – the Coalition has always positioned itself as a friend to business and has acted to make Australia a more attractive place to invest - a reinvigorated Morrison Government is certain to continue down this path.
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