PM Morrison pulls off Australian election 'miracle'

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison waves to his supporters following a victory speech with his family after winning Australia's general election in Sydney, on May 18, 2019.
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison waves to his supporters following a victory speech with his family after winning Australia's general election in Sydney, on May 18, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

Analysts say voters back Coalition's economic record as they fear Labor's ambitious agenda

Australia's ruling Coalition won a spectacular victory in a federal election yesterday after voters backed its economic record and roundly rejected Labor's ambitious agenda to overhaul taxes and tackle climate change.

Despite opinion surveys consistently showing that the Liberal-National Coalition was set to lose, Prime Minister Scott Morrison pulled off the upset with a disciplined campaign that focused squarely on the economy and on voter concerns about Labor leader Bill Shorten.

Appearing jubilant alongside his wife and two daughters, Mr Morrison, a devout Christian, announced victory by declaring: "I have always believed in miracles.

"Tonight is not about me… Tonight is about every single Australian who depends on their government to put them first."

With 71 per cent of the vote counted last night, it was not clear whether the Coalition would win a narrow majority or be forced to depend on the backing of independent MPs. ABC News predicted that it had won 74 seats in the 151-member Lower House, compared with 65 for Labor. Another five were won by independents, one by the Greens, and six were too close to call. The final results may not be known for some time.

Mr Morrison, 51, has only been prime minister since August after an internal Liberal party coup led to the toppling of Mr Malcolm Turnbull. A social conservative, Mr Morrison presented himself during the campaign as an ordinary, sports-loving, unpretentious father whose main priority was the economy and jobs.

Mr Shorten, a former union leader who has led Labor since 2013, phoned Mr Morrison to concede defeat last night and then announced that he would stand aside as opposition leader. He urged the country to finally adopt a plan to tackle climate change.

 
 
 
 

"Clearly on climate action, among others, parts of our nation remain deeply divided. For the sake of the next generation, Australia must find a way forward on climate change," he said.

Australia has enjoyed a world-record 27 years of continuous economic growth and unemployment remains relatively low.

But opinion surveys indicated that voters were angry at the Coalition's toppling of successive leaders - Mr Tony Abbott and Mr Turnbull - during the past six years.

Surveys in Australia are typically highly accurate, but analysts suggested that a switch from landlines to mobile phones in recent years has made it hard for polling groups to find reliable voter samples from across the nation's vast geography.

The Coalition ran on its economic credentials and its promise to cut taxes as well as returning the budget to surplus next year. But Mr Morrison largely avoided proposing significant changes.

In contrast, Labor made an ambitious - and politically risky - set of proposals, including higher taxes for property investors and plans to substantially cut carbon emissions and boost renewable energy.

Most analysts said the results yesterday indicated that voters were fearful of Labor's agenda and preferred to avoid significant change.

Mr Morrison will now hold a strong command over the party after pulling off the win that few thought possible.

There will be high hopes that he will lead a united party and that Australia's leadership circus - which has involved internal party coups against four prime ministers in less than a decade - will finally be over.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 19, 2019, with the headline 'PM Morrison pulls off Australian election 'miracle''. Print Edition | Subscribe