Scott Morrison will at least continue to lead Australia in minority government and may yet achieve a narrow majority government after a stunning election rebuff to Labor that has finished Bill Shorten’s leadership career. If the Coalition fails to achieve 76 seats, this will be the third election of the last four that has resulted in minority government in Australia, but for Morrison it will be a victory unique in recent decades and a remarkable political feat: virtually single-handedly, he has turned around a massive poll deficit and inflicted a searing defeat on a Labor team that believed itself heading for a narrow but relatively comfortable win.
Instead, unaided by senior members of his team, who had either quit in disgust at the dispatch of Malcolm Turnbull or who were tied down defending their own seats, Morrison was able to hold off Labor with the help of a far-right surge in Queensland where one-in-eight voters backed One Nation or Clive Palmer.
The result is now an electorate more divided than at any time in recent elections. Wealthy metropolitan electorates in New South Wales and Victoria swung hard against the Liberals: Tony Abbott was ejected, Dave Sharma’s expected easy victory in Wentworth is in doubt, and Melbourne voters swung against senior Liberals, while voters in Queensland turned on Labor, shifting to Hanson (8.7%) and to a far lesser extent Palmer (3.4%) — over 12% of the state-wide vote compared to just over 4% in NSW and Victoria, and enough to put One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts back in the Senate. With little movement elsewhere, and Hanson and Palmer preferences flowing strongly to the Coalition, it enabled Morrison to halt the swing to Labor needed to deliver 76 seats and retain a real chance of majority government in a result that could be weeks away.
It is a singular achievement for a leader whose party has not led in a single opinion poll for several years. Morrison now takes his place in the pantheon of Liberal heroes, delivering a victory many even on his own side thought impossible with an aggressive scare campaign that targeted Labor’s range of high-profile policies. Refusing to accept the defeat pollsters foretold over and over, Morrison kept hammering at Labor, a virtual one-man band without a treasurer or home affairs minister to back him on the hustings.
Labor’s failure is stunning and the autopsy on Bill Shorten’s campaign and leadership will be prolonged. Even the most pessimistic Labor hands thought they’d get between 76 and 80 seats. Instead, Shorten’s lack of popularity and a deliberate strategy of high-profile tax policies that created vocal losers appears to have prevented Labor from kicking clear of the government, in a campaign where Shorten failed to produce the same effective on-the-ground campaigning as in 2016 — and in which he was up against a much better campaigner than Malcolm Turnbull. Late last night, Shorten announced his resignation as leader.
In Queensland, Labor may have also suffered for its perceived opposition to the Adani Carmichael coal project, but that fails to explain why even Brisbane seats swung hard against the opposition — something that the Queensland ALP will have to account for to interstate colleagues given the state was the burial ground of Labor hopes.
The other losers are opinion pollsters and bookies, who both managed to get it wrong. The polls were uniform around 52-48 and 51-49 to Labor, even up to exit polls late on Saturday — not a single poll during the entire election had the Coalition ahead, a remarkable result given the ordinary vagaries of statistics. But they, like the Queensland state polls that showed a swing to Labor, proved badly off-beam. The bookies’ predictions of a comfortable Labor win were even more wrong. This was Morrison’s night, and Liberals will celebrate his remarkable victory for a long time to come.