Reviews | Australia’s election results herald a new kind of politics
And with voter turnout approaching 90%, the will of the people is truly the will of the people.
The headline news is the victory of the Labor Party, led by new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. Think of Albanese as a 59-year-old Joe Biden, a mainstream with a common touch and a long track record — he’s been in parliament since he was 33. Albo, as he is known, ran in the middle, even though he started his political life on the left.
He’s a shrewd negotiator, a careful tactician, and he has an inner strength that comes from being brought up in what we would call the projects. The son of a single mother on a disability pension, he used his victory speech to express the hope that “there are families in social housing watching this tonight” so that parents can tell their children that “it doesn’t matter where you live or where you’re from, in Australia, the doors of opportunity are open to all of us”.
The new Prime Minister is a bit suspicious – “I’ve been underestimated all my life”, he declared at the time of his triumph – but he was not wrong to allude to skeptics. And staunch progressives resented his “small target” campaign with no big promises, designed to give his conservative enemies as little as possible to shoot.
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Albanese correctly calculated that he could win simply by making increasingly unpopular and divisive starter Scott Morrison the problem. Morrison led the Australian Conservative Coalition, a longstanding alliance of the Liberal and National parties. (Yes, Australian Liberals are Conservatives.)
Labor unexpectedly lost the 2019 election, and the party’s moderates saw a bold list of policies – including strong action on climate change – as the culprit. Albanese therefore took a more cautious position in general, and in particular on the climate. His environmental goals were bolder than Morrison’s, but not so bold as to endanger the workforce in industrial and mining areas.
While Morrison has performed well during the pandemic – certainly compared to Donald Trump — its importation of aspects of American-style right-wing cultural politics (its support of an anti-trans candidatefor example) did not sit well with moderates, including some members of his own party.
Many of the dissidents were women. They exacted their revenge in the heart of the Liberal Party’s upper-middle-class suburbs as one seat after another fell to a group of female candidates. Financed mainly by personalities committed to climate action, they were known as “Teal Independents,” their color is a combination of green, for their forceful stance on climate, and blue, the color of traditional supporters of the pro-business Liberal Party. They will also lobby the new government for a strong anti-corruption commission.
The Teal revolution mattered. With several seats still undecided, the Sydney Morning Herald tally Tuesday showed the Liberals losing 10 seats to Labor, but another six to Independents and one to Greens. The Greens were the other big winners, winning three Lower House seats, and they could finish with 12 seats in the Senate.
The push for greens and turquoises reflected the urgency of the climate issue in Australian metropolitan areas and a revolt against both sides – Morrison for his skepticism of climate action and Albanese for slowing it down. The role of women in this anti-party revolt also mattered, especially after the uproar created by a devastating 2021 report on a toxic culture of sexual harassment in the Australian Parliament.
When all the votes are finally counted, Labor will likely have a simple majority of 76 seats (and possibly one more) in the 150-seat House of Representatives. But both sides were on track to the lowest combined share of first-preference votes in history, the Coalition with just under 36% and the Labor Party just under 33%.
Labor’s share was depressed by loyalists who backed Teal candidates for seats Labor could never win. But thanks to a preference system that allows voters to support third parties without fear of electing the party they like least, Australians have been able to send a message to the two main parties that they would like a different kind of politics.
Albanese has had the chance to “end climate wars”, one of his main promises, and to promote moderately progressive policies that include universal childcare. It also falls to this proud veteran of the old party system to usher in the new style of politics that Australians seem to yearn for.