SYDNEY, Australia — A jubilant Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday vowed to get straight back to work after a shock general election victory, which delivered the country three more years of conservative government.
The opposition Labor Party, meanwhile, began another bout of post-election soul searching while starting the task of finding a new leader, after Bill Shorten stood down on Saturday night following an emphatic defeat in a poll many saw as unlosable for his party.
The centre-left Labor, which has governed Australia for only 38 of its 118 years as a federation, was rated an overwhelming favourite, both in opinion polls and with odds-makers, to topple the Liberal-National coalition government after its six years in power.
Instead, Morrison — who became prime minister only last August when a contentious internal party vote dumped Malcolm Turnbull as its leader — swept the coalition to victory with what is likely to be an increased representation.
With 75% of votes counted by Sunday, the coalition had won 74 of the 76 seats needed to form a majority government. It went into the election as a minority government, with just 73 seats.
Labour was holding 66 seats, with independents and minor parties claiming six, according to calculations from the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Five seats were still in doubt.
While the possibility remained that the coalition would again form a minority government, Shorten’s move to concede defeat late on Saturday night confirmed a resounding victory for the Morrison administration.
“I’ve always believed in miracles,” a beaming Morrison told party supporters late Saturday.
Speaking before attending church in his electorate in southern Sydney on Sunday morning, Morrison thanked Australians for returning him to office.
“I give thanks to live in the greatest country in all the world,” he said. “Thanks again to all Australians all across the country.”
The 51-year-old, who received a congratulatory phone call from President Donald Trump earlier Sunday, said that he was eager to return to work on Monday to form his new government.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re going to get back to work for the Australians that we know go to work every day, who face those struggles and trials every day,” he said. “They’re looking for a fair go and they’re having a go and they’re going to get a go from our government.”
To give someone “a fair go” is an Australian colloquialism for providing justice.
As analysis of the election result began on Sunday, a key Morrison ally, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, paid tribute to his leader’s campaigning for securing the victory.
“The prime minister led from the front,” Frydenberg told ABC TV. “From the minute the starter’s gun was fired in this campaign, we knew we were behind, but we also knew we were in it, and no one knew this better than the prime minister.
“He crisscrossed the country with great energy, belief, and conviction. He was assured, he was confident, and he was across the detail, and he sold our economic plan to the Australian people, a plan that resonated with them.”
Analysts credited the result also to a simple coalition platform centring on promises of keeping taxes to a minimum.
Labour entered the race grappling with a low popularity rating for Shorten, a 52-year-old former union boss widely seen as having a pallid personality. Rather than frame the election as a battle between him and the more outgoing Morrison, Labor strategists instead pushed a broad platform of policies.
Shorten campaigned heavily on reducing greenhouse emissions, while promising a range of other reforms, including the government paying all of a patient’s costs for cancer treatment, and a reduction in tax breaks for landlords.
While senior Labor lawmaker Chris Bowen conceded his party may have suffered for what, for an opposition party, was an unusually detailed campaign, Shorten insisted it had been right to fight the election on issues rather than personalities.
“I’m disappointed for people who depend upon Labor, but I’m glad that we argued what was right, not what was easy,” Shorten told supporters.
Shorten would have been Australia’s sixth prime minister in six years had he been elected. Many Australians have at least welcomed Morrison’s announcement of a change in Liberal policy in that the party can no longer dump a prime minister by internal party vote, meaning they will lead the country for a full three-year term unless an early election is called.
So high was public confidence of a Labor victory, Australian online bookmaker Sportsbet paid out 1.3 million Australian dollars ($900,000) to bettors who backed Labor two days before the vote. Sportsbet said 70% of wagers had been placed on Labor at the slender odds of $1.16 to $1.00.
As Labor absorbed the defeat, deputy leader Tanya Plibersek and popular Sydney-based lawmaker Anthony Albanese told reporters they were considering running for the party’s leadership.
In other notable election outcomes, former Liberal Prime Minister Tony Abbott was emphatically dumped from his Sydney seat by independent Zali Steggall.
And the maverick senator who blamed the slaughter of 51 worshippers in two New Zealand mosques on the country’s immigration policies also lost his bid for election.
Fraser Anning was the target of widespread condemnation for railing against Muslim immigration within hours of the mass shootings in the New Zealand city of Christchurch in March. He faced more criticism later for physically striking a teenage protester who cracked a raw egg on his head and was censured by the Senate.