Liberal Party Unexpectedly Wins Australian Elections Focused on Climate Change

Published July 3, 2019

Defying the press, the pundits, the pollsters, and the punters (bettors), a coalition of two of Australia’s right-of-center parties—the Liberal Party and the National Party—won the national election, emerging with more seats in Parliament than they had before the elections.

The opposition left-of-center Labor (ALP) and Green parties had made the election about climate change. They attacked Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Liberal party for rescinding a carbon tax in 2014 that a previous Labor government had imposed in 2012, and for ousting the previous Liberal prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, over his pledge to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 26 percent by 2030 in order to meet Australia’s obligations under the Paris climate agreement.

After replacing Turnbull as Prime Minister in August of 2018, Morrison recommitted his party to expanding the mining of coal for domestic use and export.

Polls Predicted Labor Landslide

Labor made Australia’s energy and climate the main issue in the election, promising to raise government revenue through policies meant to curb greenhouse gas emissions, even while acknowledging the proposals would increase energy costs and result in job losses.

Shortly before the election, Labor and its partners sent protestors to the site of a proposed coal mine in Queensland. The locals, who favored opening the mine because of the jobs and economic growth it promised, gave the activists a rough welcome, refusing to serve them food or drinks and engaging in shoving matches with the anti-coal protestors.

Right up through Election Day, Labor seemed to be winning on the climate and energy issue, according to the polls. Australia’s federal election was universally held to be “unlosable” for the Labor Party— until the votes were counted.

More than 60 successive polls undertaken since the 2016 election indicated Labor would make big gains in Parliament and be in position to choose the Prime Minister. Even exit polls taken the day of the election indicated Labor would win 82 seats in the 151-member Parliament. Instead, Labor finished the election with 68 seats in Parliament, one less than it began the day with.

The Liberal/National coalition, which started the day with 74 seats in Parliament, ended up winning 77 seats, holding on to two open seats previously held by the coalition and picking up an additional seat over its prior total.

In Australia, voting is compulsory for qualified citizens.

Sure Thing Went Sour

The election had been considered such a lock for Labor, at least one big betting house, Sportsbet, paid out on a Labor win two days before the election in order to stop taking bets on it.

On May 16, Sportsbet tweeted, “We’ve paid out early on Labor to win the Federal Election. #ausvotes19 We thought we’d simply give them their cash early.”

Sportsbet’s mistake cost the company more than $1 million in payouts on the ultimately losing bet. The company then, of course, had to pay those who had bet the Liberal/National coalition would win, tweeting about its previous announcement and payout, “This didn’t age well…#ausvotes.”

Post-election results showed Labor lost more of the seats it had previously held in suburban and rural areas than it gained in Australia’s large cities and urban areas.

Former PM Lost Seat

Former Liberal Prime Minister Tony Abbott, an avowed climate skeptic, lost his seat in Parliament, where he had represented northern Sidney since 1994.

Abbott attributed his loss to a political realignment, saying an increasing political divide based on income levels, not climate change, was the reason for his loss.

“I think we can see that there is something of a realignment of politics going on right around this country,” said Abbott in his concessions speech. “It’s clear that in what might be described as working seats, we are doing so much better. It’s also clear that in at least some of what might be described as wealthy seats, we are doing it tough and the Green Left is doing better.

“[L]et me just say … where climate change is a moral issue we Liberals do it tough,” Abbott said. “Where climate change is an economic issue, as tonight shows, we do very, very well.”

‘Climate Is Always Changing’

The coalition formed by the Labor and Green parties in conjunction with the Australian activist group GetUP! should accept the election results and move on, says Viv Forbes, executive director of the Carbon Sense Coalition.

“The ALP-Greens-GetUp! alliance ran hard in Australia’s recent climate alarm election; they lost,” Forbes said. “So let us see no more anti-coal motorcades and street processions and more hard science education.

“The new government must also stop promotion of green energy with targets, subsidies, and carbon taxes, and focus on infrastructure catch-up,” Forbes said. “Climate is always changing, [and] government policies that assume continuous global warming expose our society and economy to huge risks for no measurable benefits.”

Jobs Trumped Climate

Jobs and the well-being of the economy proved to be more important to Australian voters than fears of climate change, says Tom Harris, executive director of the International Climate Science Coalition.

“Newspapers such as The Guardian Australia endorsed the Labor Party because of its candidates’ focus on climate change, and argued the climate emergency is the most pressing issue of our time,” Harris said. “But many Australians did not go along, especially in Queensland, which is a big coal-mining state.

“Had Labor won Queensland, they would have formed the government,” said Harris. “Instead, the incumbent minority coalition government, with its less extreme climate policies, won.”

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.