Australia election results: Labor leader Anthony Albanese becomes country’s next prime minister

Australia’s Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese appeared certain to form a minority government, although it was unclear whether the party would have enough seats for a majority, according to forecasts by three news channels, as the count continued.

Parties need a majority of 76 seats to form a majority government. Labor currently sits at around 70, according to the Australian Electoral Commission.

Early counts showed a sharp swing towards Green Party and Independent candidates calling for emissions cuts well beyond the commitments made by Morrison’s coalition.

Amanda McKenzie, CEO of the Climate Council research group, declared climate protection the winner of the vote.

“Millions of Australians have put climate first. Now it’s time for a radical reset of how our great nation is responding to the climate challenge,” she said in a statement.

Albanese was a minister in the previous Labor government under Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard before taking over as Labor leader following the party’s recent electoral defeat in 2019.

That loss left Labor breathless, and they returned to this campaign with more modest promises so as not to scare off voters worried about radical change.

Climate aside, this election focused on the character of the leaders. Morrison was deeply unpopular with voters and seemed to admit it when he admitted in the last week of campaigning that he had been “a little bulldozer”. He referred to making tough decisions during the pandemic and terminating a submarine deal with France, but it reflected claims about his leadership style being authoritarian rather than cooperative.

Speaking to his supporters late Saturday night, Morrison said he called Albanese and congratulated him on his election victory. “I’ve always believed in Australians and their judgment and I’ve always been willing to accept their judgment,” he said.

Just before midnight, Albanese left to cheer his supporters and said he would try to unite the nation. “I will work every day to bring Australians together. And I will lead a government worthy of the Australian people.”

He added: “I can promise all Australians, no matter how you voted today, the government I lead will respect each and every one of you every day.”

Scott Morrison flanked by his wife and daughters as he conceded defeat to Labor leader Anthony Albanese.

What will Albanese do as Prime Minister?

One of Albanese’s first priorities as prime minister will be rebuilding ties with foreign leaders, which he says Morrison has neglected in recent years. They include leaders from the Pacific islands, including the Solomon Islands, whose leader signed a security pact with Beijing and stoked fears China plans to build its first military base in the Pacific.

On Tuesday, Albanese intends to travel to Tokyo with Secretary of State Penny Wong for talks with Quad members from the United States, India and Japan, where they will discuss priorities for securing free passage in the Indo-Pacific.

The climate crisis was one of the defining issues of the election, according to polls, as one of the few differences between the Coalition and Labor and a key concern for voters.

Marija Taflaga, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the Australian National University, said the swing to the Greens was remarkable. “I think everyone was surprised by these results… I think it will mean that there will be bigger and faster action on climate change on a broader scale.”

Labor has pledged to cut emissions by 43% by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050, in part by strengthening the mechanism by which companies are pressured to make cuts.

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But research institute Climate Analytics says Labor plans are not ambitious enough to keep global temperature rise within 1.5 degrees Celsius, as stipulated in the Paris Agreement.

Labor policy is more consistent with a rise of 2 degrees Celsius, the institute said, marginally better than the coalition’s plan.

To accelerate the transition to renewable energy, Labor plans to modernize Australia’s energy grid and introduce solar banks and community batteries. But despite its net-zero commitment, Labor says it will approve new coal projects if they are environmentally and economically viable.

In downtown seats, the results show voters have thrown their support behind independents, mostly highly educated female candidates, who stand on a platform for greater greenhouse gas emissions cuts and integrity in government. They targeted Liberals’ traditionally safe seats and urged voters to take a stand on decades of government inaction. They will be among the candidates Labor is likely to negotiate with when they try to form a government.

Albanese supports a 5.1% increase in the minimum wage, although he has no power to enforce it, only leeway to make a recommendation to the Fair Work Commission that the minimum wage keeps pace with inflation.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his wife Jenny cast their ballots in a polling booth in Sydney on Saturday.

A humble upbringing to PM

Albanese often references his background as the son of a single mother to demonstrate his commitment to improving the lives of struggling Australians.

His mother, Maryanne, suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and lived on a disability pension while raising him alone in council housing in the 1960s.

“It gave me a determination every day to help the people I grew up to have a better life. And I think that’s what Australians want,” he told the National Press Club in January.

Albanese repeatedly credited his mother for her strength during his campaign, most recently on Friday when he paid tribute to an “incredible woman”.

“She would be incredibly proud because she made the brave decision in 1963 to keep an illegitimate child,” he said.

Albanese’s father was a steward on a cruise ship, and Australia’s new prime minister was born of a brief liaison that was scandalous for a single Catholic woman at the time.

So she told him his father died to spare him the truth, he said.

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“It was a difficult decision,” he said. “It says something about the pressure that has been and is still being exerted on women when faced with difficult circumstances. The fact that this young woman is now running for Prime Minister says a lot about her and her courage, but it also says a lot about this country.”

Albanese may have won over Australians, but one of his challenges as prime minister will be uniting factions in his party, said Zareh Ghazarian, a lecturer in politics at Monash University.

“He has presented himself as someone who will be a level-headed leader. The challenge he will have is to take the leadership of the Labor Party and stay at the top,” he said.

Paul Williams, a political scientist at Griffith University, said Albanese lacked experience on large portfolios, but he predicted he would “grow into the job.”

“I think it’s going to be a steep learning curve for Albanese because he didn’t have a very senior portfolio like treasurer or secretary of state. And he’ll be thrown into the mix at the quad meet next week. So it’s going to be a baptism of fire,” he said.

Albanese said he hoped his win would show the young Australians that “the doors of opportunity are open to all of us”.

“All parents want more for the next generation than they had. My mother dreamed of a better life for me. And I hope my life journey inspires Australians to reach for the stars.”

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