Australian prime minister Scott Morrison holds on to power in ‘miracle’ victory for conservatives
Posted On July 5, 2020
It was supposed to have been the election the opposition Labor Party couldn’t lose. But on Saturday voters in Australia stunned the political establishment by delivering a shock victory for the ruling centre-Right Liberals.
“I have always believed in miracles!” Scott Morrison, the prime minister, told loyalists in Sydney. “I’m standing with the three biggest miracles (his wife and two daughters) in my life here tonight! And tonight we’ve been delivered another one!”
For months opinion polls placed Labor ahead in the of the Liberal-National coalition, who were consumed by infighting over energy policy and had dumped Malcolm Turnbull as leader in August. Widely predicted to feel the force of voter anger after six turbulent years in office, the Liberals will be returned to power for a third term either in its own right or in minority government with the support of independents. As the final votes were being counted on Saturday night, Mr Morrison’s party was due two seats shy of a majority with five seats yet to be declared.
Mr Morrison, known as ScoMo, has singled-handedly rescued his party. He is economically liberal and socially conservative, and his country’s first Pentecostal prime minister.
The son of a Sydney police officer has a folksy, suburban charm, and was in the public eye at a young age, appearing in several television commercials as a child actor. As a previous minister for immigration, Mr Morrison was the architect of Operation Sovereign Borders that ordered the navy to tow or turn back boats bringing asylum seekers into Australia’s northern waters.
Mr Morrison warned that his Labor rival, Bill Shorten, a former union boss, was unfit to govern, and couldn’t be trusted to manage a faltering economy.
Voters appeared to have been spooked by the opposition’s radical tax reform agenda and its big spending plans for health and education.
The coalition also made controversial electoral deals with the Right-wing United Australia Party (UAP) and the anti-immigration One Nation Party to deny Labor support in a preferential voting system, especially in the key state of Queensland.
Mining billionaire Clive Palmer’s UAP has claimed it helped re-elect the coalition.
“The goal for the United Australia Party was to ensure… Labor… did not get into power, introducing more the AU$1 trillion of new taxes,” it said in a statement.
Months of polling and an exit poll on the day put Labor a shade in front of their rivals. But the campaign disintegrated as votes were counted in the most disastrous way.
“I want to say beyond this room to Australians who supported Labor: I know that you’re all hurting and I am too,” said Mr Shorten, who has quit as leader. "This has been a tough campaign. Toxic at times.”
There has, though, been one high-profile casualty in conservative ranks. The former prime minister Tony Abbott has lost his blue-ribband beachside seat in Sydney to the former Olympic skier Zali Steggall, an independent candidate, ending his 25-year parliamentary career. Mr Abbott has been punished by his well-heeled constituents for his opposition to same-sex marriage and his scepticism of climate change.
The former Liberal foreign minister Julie Bishop was scathing in her assessment of him. “He’s a climate change denier personified and clearly out of step with his electorate,” she said.
Mr Abbott has complained of “a new nastiness in Australian politics” in what has at times been a fractious campaign. At what supposed to have been a staid Country Women’s Association election event in Albury a protester threw an egg at the prime minister (it didn’t break).
On election day, a 67-year-old man believed to be a volunteer for the United Australia Party was fined for allegedly exposing himself in front of at least three women in a dispute at a polling station in Sydney. A Liberal Party supporter was alleged attacked with a corkscrew in another apparent election-day bust-up on a day of drama in Tony Abbott’s constituency.
Australian politics is rarely dull; often brutal and petty but also unstable. It is more than a decade since a prime minister here last served a full term in office.