Conservatives set to retain power in Australia election upset

National broadcaster called it for Prime Minister Scott Morrison's coalition which was expected to lose to the Labor Party

Scott Morrison, Australia's prime minister, left, gestures a thumbs up while standing next to wife Jenny Morrison after casting his ballot at a polling station during a federal election in Sydney, Australia, on Saturday, May 18, 2019. Morrison is fighting to save his conservative government in Australia's election on Saturday, with polls showing the left-leaning Labor party poised to win office. Photographer: David Gray/Bloomberg
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Australia's ruling conservative coalition appeared to have secured a shock election win on Saturday, with the media predicting the alliance defied expectations to retain power.

National broadcaster ABC called the election for Prime Minster Scott Morrison's conservative Liberal-National Coalition, although with just over half of votes counted it was not clear if it would be a minority or majority government.

The results stand in contrast to pre-election polls, which predicted the centre-left Labor Party would win.

Mr Morrison's coalition won or is ahead in 72 seats in its quest for a 76-seat majority, according to the Australian Electoral Commission.

Several seats are still either too close to call or the vote count has not progressed enough to declare a winner.

"At the moment, it's looking very strongly like the Morrison government will be returned," said ABC chief election analyst Antony Green.

"We're just not sure in what position it will be returned," he said, saying that although it may be a minority government, the Coalition would have more seats than Labor.

"I thought I was coming to a wake, to be quite honest with you," Liberal supporter Greg Napper told Reuters at Sydney's Wentworth Hotel, where the government holds its official election night function. "This is a party – the results are encouraging."

Mr Morrison's coalition defied expectations by holding onto a string of outer suburban seats in areas where demographics closest resemble America's Rust Belt, blocking Labor's strongest path to victory.

Sombre mood in Bill Shorten's hometown

The mood was sombre in Melbourne, the hometown of Labor leader Bill Shorten, on Saturday night as the anticipated victory dissipated.

"I think people have become afraid after a very negative campaign," Labor supporter Julie Nelson said. "They managed to convince people they should be afraid of change."

Labor's 2019 campaign focused on higher spending for health and education, and more ambitious curbs to greenhouse-gas pollution.

Both major parties suffered a fall in their primary vote, according to AEC data, which was caused in part by a high-profile campaign by Clive Palmer's populist United Australia Party.

The election campaign sparked several high-profile local battles, including attempts to remove Peter Dutton, a senior politician who has championed Australia's controversial policy of detaining asylum seekers in offshore centres.

Although Mr Dutton retained his Queensland seat, former conservative prime minister Tony Abbott conceded that he had lost his Sydney seat of Warringah to high-profile independent Zali Steggall.

There are also 40 of 76 Senate seats up for grabs. The outcome of these contests will determine how difficult it will be for the next government to enact policy.

Tony Abbott loses seat in ‘unprecedented’ defeat

Mr Abbott was soundly defeated in his formerly safe seat on Sydney’s wealthy north shore, ending a 25-year parliamentary career.

Mr Abbott, 61, suffered a 13 per cent swing against him in Warringah to Ms Steggall, a lawyer and former Olympic skier. Mr Abbott conceded defeat on Saturday evening and congratulated Ms Steggall, but said he took solace from the very strong performance by the government after what was widely agreed to be an effective campaign by Mr Morrison.

"The good news is much more important than the bad news. The good news is that there is every chance that the Liberal-National Coalition has won this election," Mr Abbott told supporters. “Scott Morrison will now quite rightly enter the Liberal pantheon forever.’’

epa07580402 Australian former prime minister and Warringah Liberal candidate Tony Abbott (C) is joined on stage by his wife Margie (R) and sister Christine Forster (2-L) after conceding defeat at Manly Leagues Club in Brookvale, Sydney, Australia, 18 May 2019. Approximately 16.5 million Australians will vote in what is tipped to be a tight election, contest between Prime Minister Morrison and Opposition Labor leader Shorten.  EPA/BIANCA DE MARCHI AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT
Tony Abbott, the Australian former prime minister and Warringah Liberal candidate, is joined on stage by his wife Margie and sister Christine Forster after conceding defeat. EPA

Mr Abbott was criticised over the years for his arch-conservative views that have seen him doubt climate change, oppose same-sex marriage and reinstate Australia’s archaic honours system of appointing knights and dames.

After being removed as Liberal leader by his own MPs, he remained in parliament on the backbench and often criticised the policy positions of his moderate successor, Malcolm Turnbull.

“This is a slaughter. This is unprecedented,” said Labor MP Anthony Albanese. “This is the absolute faithful walking away from Tony Abbott.”

Mr Abbott served as prime minister for two years from September 2013 before he was dumped in a party coup. A figurehead of the Liberals’ hard-right, he was a lightning rod for controversy for much of his political career, and was famously labelled a misogynist by then Labor prime minister Julia Gillard in 2012.