Australian Labor leader Anthony Albanese claimed victory Saturday, though it is unclear as tallies continue whether his party will have the 76 seats needed to form a majority.
Preliminary tallies show a strong swing towards Greens and Independent candidates demanding emission cuts well above commitments made by the ruling conservative coalition.
Amanda McKenzie, CEO of the Climate Council research group, declared climate action the winner of the vote.
“Millions of Australians have put climate first. Now is the time to radically reset how our great nation acts on climate challenges,” he said in a statement.
Apart from climate, this election is more focused on the character of the leader. Incumbent Scott Morrison. very unpopular with voters and seemed to admit as much when he admitted during the final week of the campaign that he had been a “bit of a bulldozer.” He refers to making tough decisions during the pandemic and breaking submarine deals with France, but that reflects claims about his leadership style as more authoritarian than collaborative.
Addressing his supporters late Saturday, Morrison said he had called Alba’s people and congratulated him on his election victory. “I have always believed in Australians and their judgment, and I am always ready to accept their verdict,” he said.
Just before midnight, the Albanese came out to cheers from his supporters and said he would strive to unite the nation. “I will work every day to unite Australians. And I will lead a government that is worthy of the Australian people.”
He added: “I can promise all these Australians no matter how you vote today, the government I lead will respect you every day.”
What will Albanians do as Prime Minister?
One of Alba’s first priorities as Prime Minister is to rebuild relations with foreign leaders he says Morrison has neglected in recent years. They include Pacific Island leaders, including the Solomon Islands whose leaders signed a security pact with Beijing, stoking fears that China is planning to build its first military base in the Pacific.
On Tuesday, Albanese intends to travel to Tokyo with Secretary of State Penny Wong to speak with Quad members from the United States, India and Japan, where they will discuss priorities for maintaining free passage in the Indo-Pacific.
The climate crisis is one of the election-defining issues, as one of the few differences between the coalition and the Labor Party, and a major concern for voters, according to opinion polls.
Marija Taflaga, lecturer in politics and international relations at the Australian National University, said the shift towards the Greens was extraordinary. “I think everyone was surprised by this result … I think it means there will be bigger and faster action on climate change more broadly.”
Labor has pledged to reduce emissions by 43% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050, in part by strengthening mechanisms used to pressure companies into making cuts.
But research institute Climate Analytics said Labor’s plan was not ambitious enough to keep global temperature rise within 1.5 degrees Celsius, as outlined in the Paris Agreement.
Labor policy is more consistent with a 2 degree Celsius increase, the institute said, slightly better than the coalition plan.
To accelerate the transition to renewable energy, Labor plans to modernize Australia’s energy grid and launch community solar and battery banks. But despite its net zero commitments, Labor said it would approve new coal projects if they were environmentally and economically viable.
In the inner city seat, results show voters cast their support behind the Independent, mostly highly educated female candidates standing on a platform for higher cuts to greenhouse emissions and integrity in government. They are targeting the traditionally secure Liberal seats, challenging voters to take a stand against decades of government inaction.
Albanese supports a 5.1% minimum wage increase, although he has no power to enforce it, only leeway to make a recommendation to the Fair Employment Commission that minimum wages follow inflation.
Simple education for PM
Albanese often cite her background as the child of a single mother to demonstrate her commitment to making life better for struggling Australians.
His mother, Maryanne, had rheumatoid arthritis and lived off disability benefits while she raised him alone on council housing in the 1960s.
“It gives me determination every day to help people like me grow up to have better lives. And I think that’s what Australians want,” he told the National Press Club in January.
Albanese has repeatedly praised her mother for her strength during her campaign, most recently on Friday when she paid tribute to “an extraordinary woman.”
“He would be proud as a blow because he made the bold decision in 1963 to keep the child he produced out of wedlock,” he said.
Albanese’s father was a flight attendant on a cruise ship, and the new Prime Minister of Australia was born of a brief affair which was embarrassing at the time for a single Catholic woman.
So she told him that her father had died to save her from the truth, she said.
“It was a difficult decision,” he said. “This says something about the pressure placed on women and the pressure that is still being exerted on women when faced with difficult circumstances. The fact that this young man is now running for Prime Minister says a lot about him and his courage, but it also says a lot about this country.”
The Alba may triumph over the Australian, but one of his challenges as Prime Minister is to unite his party’s factions, said Zareh Ghazarian, lecturer in politics at Monash University.
“He presents himself as someone who will be a level-headed leader. The challenge he will face is getting to the top and staying at the top of the Labor caucus,” he said.
Albanese served as 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 latest election defeat in 2019.
The defeat left Labor in despair and they returned to this election campaign with more modest promises to avoid scaring voters worried about radical change.
Paul Williams, a political scientist at Griffith University, said Albanese has no experience in a major portfolio but expects he will “grow up in the job.”
“I think it’s going to be a steep learning curve for the Alba guy because he doesn’t have a very senior portfolio like a treasurer or a secretary of state. And he’s going to be put in the mix for next week’s Quad meeting a baptism of fire,” he said.
Albanese said he hoped his win would show young Australians that “the door of opportunity is open to all of us.”
“Every parent wants more for the next generation than they have. My mother dreamed of a better life for me. And I hope my journey in life inspires Australians to reach for the stars.”