Labor thought they had this one, and the pollsters, uniformly, agreed. Poll after poll after poll went, nationally, to Labor — at 51-49 or 52-48 — with the numbers not shifting at all throughout the campaign. But as William Bowe noted a few days ago, the herding of the polls around a single outcome raised the possibility they were all wrong — which is exactly how it turned out.
Instead, a wholly unexpected swing to the government in Queensland — delivered via preference flows from One Nation and Clive Palmer voters — and a failure of Victoria to shift as much to Labor as expected, plus the voters of Bass and Braddon performing their usual havoc, got the government over the line. Scott Morrison, who has led a solo effort throughout the election campaign, is now prime minister in his own right and the new Liberal hero.
Labor had expected to at least break even in Queensland — or come out slightly ahead — losing votes in the north of the state but picking them up in the south-eastern corner. But far from Labor picking up seats from the LNP in metropolitan areas, the LNP laid siege to Wayne Swan’s former seat of Lilley and Shayne Neumann in Blair, after taking Herbert — as expected — and Longman, where Labor had gained a noteworthy swing in a byelection less than a year ago. The LNP’s primary vote actually fell very slightly — it was the nearly 9% of Queenslanders who voted for One Nation, and another 3+% who backed Clive Palmer, or at least were convinced by his tens of millions of dollars in advertising to vote for him, that drove Labor’s vote down, with preferences flowing to the LNP and putting secure Labor seats in jeopardy.
Palmer — whose attempt to buy his way into the Senate won’t work; instead, One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts looks likely to get the final Queensland Senate spot — was quick to claim the status of kingmaker for Morrison, but One Nation’s vote was more important. In Blair, for instance, which hung in the balance for much of the night, One Nation picked up a swing of 2 percentage points to reach nearly 17%; in Lilley, which may yet fall to the LNP, One Nation turned out for the first time and picked up 5% to UAP’s 2%.
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In other states, the results were more mixed. Labor lost Lindsay but easily gained Gilmore in New South Wales, ending the brief and fairly ordinary career of Warren Mundine, but Macquarie remained in doubt for Labor. Kerryn Phelps, assumed to be the victim of a return to business-as-usual in Wentworth, was locked in a tight tussle with Dave Sharma. Labor still has an outside chance in Boothby in South Australia, which will go down to the wire. But Victoria was another graveyard of Labor hopes: the vaunted gains in seats like Deakin, Flinders and even Higgins rapidly vanished as counting progressed. There was a swing, but nowhere near enough; by the end of the night, even Chisholm was in doubt, leaving the notionally Labor seats of Corangamite and Dunkley as the only results of what was expected to be a Labor rout in the south.
Everywhere Labor expected and needed to pick up seats ended up disappointing — even Western Australia, where once-high Labor hopes were reduced to worries Anne Aly would lose in Cowan. In Tasmania, Bass and Braddon swung and swung hard to the Liberals, while Tasmanians are also likely to return Jacqui Lambie to the Senate from which she was removed during the great section 44 purge.
And then there was Tony Abbott. The former prime minister didn’t just lose Warringah: he was obliterated by Zali Steggall, who easily beat him on primaries, 45% to 39%. All the talk of needing preferences from Labor and the Greens vanished, along with expectations it would be a nailbiter: this was a thrashing for the ages. Abbott was the first to fall of the night, removing at a stroke the Coalition’s most disruptive member — a result that will cheer many of his colleagues, who can look forward to another term of government freed from his destructive impulses.
Abbott, at least, experienced the job of winning office and becoming prime minister. Bill Shorten, who conceded to Morrison late on Saturday night and announced his resignation as Labor leader, now will never do so. As late as 6pm on Saturday, with exit polls pointing to a comfortable win for Labor, he could look forward to victory and the implementation of a complex and brave policy agenda. It had all turned to ashes within three hours.