federal election Labor
Labor supporters watch the tally count at the Federal Labor Reception (Image: AAP/Lukas Koch)

It takes about an hour for the cheers to die off, and maybe another for the tears to start.

Labor voters are nervously confident of an ALP victory as they start pouring in to Melbourne’s Hyatt Place at 6.30pm. With exit polls at 52-48 there is widespread fretting about seats, but a general confidence. People are taking the opportunity to mingle in a sea of red, with guests like Father Bob and Egg Boy (if they can get past his media minder); everyone cheers as the early Warringah votes come on. I speak with a foreign social research student on the dangers of voting for self-interest, and what the ALP will get to work on.

By 7.30pm, the cracks appear. Antony Green announces that none of the voting patterns match the opinion polls, specifically in Queensland where Peter Dutton seems certain to retain Dickson. The cheers don’t officially end until Tony Abbott concedes, but now the phones are out and, with audible debates that Western Australia could maybe save the day, the bargaining begins.

Shortly after, an ALP member tells another that, according to a polling insider, the results are no better out west, and no, not even for minority government. “We can’t win, it’s over.”

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By 8.30pm people are still friendly but the swing is obvious and the tears have started. I find one of the members with apparent insider contacts about what happened, and ask how it all went so wrong.

“It was a big agenda, the electorate’s conservative, what can you do?” he says matter-of-factly. Going into the election, he says, Labor could have curled up into a ball, gone small target opposition, but they didn’t and, speaking emphatically, “they should be applauded for that”.

He says the tax reforms sounded radical even if they really weren’t, and admits to not even knowing what franking credits were before the reforms were announced. After a minute’s explanation, he agrees that concessions were a “bullshit policy” that should be fixed. 

And what about climate change? It was reportedly the biggest issue of the election but, he says, the electorate is probably still too conservative to consider spending money; and that while inaction is a greater cost, that’s a long cost. He laughs that the Coalition will, at least, have to deal with the impending breakdown of the global economy.

Walking through the increasingly packed, distraught, but somehow still lively crowd for the next few hours offers up more theories. It’s all Clive Palmer’s fault. Penny Wong needs to swap houses and lead the party. “Fuck Queensland!” a young, drunk supporter happily yells at me.

After the news has well and truly sunk in, the Shortens take stage at 11.30pm — both Chloe and Chloe’s Husband. The crowd, unsurprisingly, loves Bill. He has to stop himself a few times from starting due to the cheers, and jokes that he appreciates the declarations of “I love you!” but that they might make what he’s about to say harder.

Shorten, it has to be said, makes a terrific concession speech. It hits the mark of sad but proud, realistic but passionate of Labor’s genuinely massive reforms. While acknowledging the still-uncertain results, he says that Labor cannot form government. Someone next to me whispers “no” to herself, and Shorten announces he has called Morrison to resign.

His resignation as Labor leader is unsurprising, but causes a similar wave of dismay around the venue. This is the first time I fully appreciate how diverse — or at least relatively diverse — the crowd is. Tears are falling down the faces of white, African, and visibly queer Australians.

Bill leaves to another round of applause, and that’s basically it. People linger around in a stupor for a while, not quite knowing what to do next. Many of the insiders seem to have accepted the result and moved on.

The rage, however, is still there for some well past midnight. Speaking to one of the last remaining groups, a woman declares that Labor should have ditched its franking credits policy and, moving her hand like a snake, “should have snuck it in later”.

“Why be honest?” she says, laughing with a touch of anger. “That’s a lesson for the kids of Australia: never be honest, ha!”

Why did Labor lose the election? Write to boss@crikey.com.au with your thoughts, theories and please use your full name.