It took 10 days to finalise the results for the House of Representatives following the Australian Federal elections on May 21, 2022. However, one thing was clear on election night: the people’s desire for stronger climate action. Voters not only changed the government, they also sent a message to the nation's political parties that the climate crisis must be acted on urgently.
Annabel Crabb, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) journalist, echoed the thoughts of most commentators:
This was the election at which Australians quietly but unmistakably allied themselves with action on climate change.
Social media was dominated by similar but louder sentiments:
This is an amazing result for the climate! #AusPol2022
— Amanda (@it_is_me_amanda) May 21, 2022
“There may have been lots of swirling currents but the results of the federal election were overwhelmingly that 2022 was, finally, the climate election.”
— David Morris (@djmor6) May 21, 2022
House of Representatives and Senate results
Australia has compulsory voting and a preferential voting system. Voters must rank all candidates in order 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. To win, a candidate must receive more than 50 percent in the House of Representatives.
Scott Morrison’s Liberal and National (LNP) Coalition government was soundly defeated. Anthony Albanese led the Australian Labor Party to a historic victory, after nine years in opposition. The ALP has a two-seat majority in the House of Representatives, where the government is decided, winning 77 seats. The defeated government will have 58 seats, down 19 from the last parliament.
The Liberal and National parties have governed together for 19 of the last 26 years. Despite its name, the Liberal party is a conservative organization similar to the Tories in the United Kingdom. The National Party is a rural-based organization, which attracts many supporters in farming and mining areas.
However, the biggest winners were independents and the Australian Greens party. There were large swings in some traditionally conservative electorates to so-called “teal” candidates who campaigned against the Morrison government on climate change inaction, the need for a strong anti-corruption commission, and a range of gender issues. They have won five Reps seats, giving them six total.
The results of the Senate are still being finalised. At this stage Labor’s numbers have not changed, the Greens are up three seats and the LNP coalition is likely to have lost three or four seats.
Although the ALP had a stronger climate policy than the outgoing government, both the Greens and so-called teals argued for a better 2030 target than Labor’s proposed 43 percent reduction and an end to fossil fuel power generation and coal exports.
There were other prominent issues besides climate at play during the election, such as the state of the economy. Inflation, declining wages, and rising interest rates were major issues during the campaign. National security and foreign relations were also important concerns. Many voters, especially those of Chinese background, were unhappy with the way the government handled its relationship with China. The appalling state of aged care, Australia's national health program for senior citizens, was also a major priority for many voters.
Gender inequality and the treatment of women both at home and in the workplace have been high-profile issues in the last parliament. Many people hope that the increased number of women parliamentarians, and an increase in diversity, will help to address these and other issues:
Diversity in the Australian Parliament has increased:
👉🏽Asian Australians (4 to 9)
👍🏿 10 First Nation (from 6)
💫 38% women in HoR
🧕🏽More ethnic diversity and people of colour (13)
💃🏾 57% women in Senatehttps://t.co/XvcG0y18tK
— Ruth McGowan (@hula_grl) May 23, 2022
— Rachelle Miller (@rachellejmiller) May 21, 2022
The Albanese Cabinet has a record number of women.
The performance and character of the Liberal Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, was also a focus of the campaign. He was seen as missing in action during the recent horrific bushfire and flood emergencies. COVID-19 played its part due to the slow rollout of vaccines and rapid antigen tests. The PM was also unpopular in Western Australia for arguing against the state’s tough border closures.
Ronni Salt (a social media alias) has been a frequent critic of the PM. Her post-election farewell is a scathing assessment:
A greater fraud and malcontent never disgraced the mantle of Prime Minister. That he was disliked throughout Australia goes without saying. That he was despised as well is truly extraordinary.
The new government
The ALP is a progressive, social democrat party, which has historically been the party of change. It was long advocated for policies such as universal health care and climate action.
Its vote percentages have been declining in recent years, down from the mid to high 40s to low 30s. This has been caused by falling numbers of working-class voters and much lower membership of labour unions as traditional industries have shrunk or disappeared. In addition, there have been increased opportunities for upward mobility in Australia with increased wealth and education.
They have also been threats from parties of the left such as the Greens as well as populist right-wing parties such as One Nation and the United Australia Party.
The Liberal Party has been challenged in their heartland at this election by a number of professional women. Dr. Monique Ryan defeated outgoing treasurer, Josh Frydenburg, who had been groomed as the next leader of the party. Allegra Spender, whose father and grandfather were Liberal members of the House of Representatives, was successful against high profile moderate Dave Sharma. Kate Chaney, whose uncle and grandfather were Liberal cabinet ministers, won a seat in Western Australia.
Meanwhile, the Greens have increased from one seat in the House of Representatives to four members. The party won two seats from the Liberals and one from Labor, all in inner-city Brisbane. Each of the seats borders the river that experienced major flooding in 2022.
The teals’ success, and that of the Greens, is being seen as a triumph of local candidates and community-based campaigning:
Who'd have thought a huge local community with zero political campaigning experience could achieve so much! The power of vision positivity and hope! So now, we have the most amazing local candidate. What an inspiration you are – take a bow @ChaneyforCurtin https://t.co/IQeqWLnqtZ
— James Lush (@lushjames) May 26, 2022
The next three years
Many Australians had hoped for a minority Labor government with the teal independents and the Greens holding the balance of power:
My hope at this stage. Minority Labor gov with a big mandate from all the greens/Ind vote to push harder on climate change. LNP scrambling for a leader as contenders lose their seats. I’m liking that scenario. #AusPol2022
— Aus Sue (@AusSue2) May 21, 2022
This was not to be. Nevertheless, the Australian Greens now hold 12 Senate seats, meaning the new Albanese government will need to negotiate with them over legislation.
In addition, high profile climate activist and former member of the National Rugby Union team, David Pocock, is likely to win a Senate position in the Australian Capital Territory from a Liberal assistant minister. In 2021 he brought together 300 sportspeople to campaign for deeper cuts to greenhouse gas emissions. Pocock is already pushing broader environmental issues:
This is not what Australians want and expect from government. Time to release the long overdue State of the Environment report and get serious about protecting our incredible biodiversity.https://t.co/zE3lsT7V4a
— David Pocock (@pocockdavid) June 1, 2022
The ALP has already started talking up its commitment to climate action. New foreign minister, Penny Wong, has emphasised its importance during visits to Pacific Island nations:
Foreign Minister Penny Wong has announced a new eight-year partnership with Samoa to help address human development in the Pacific island nation.
— AWPR (@WarPowersReform) June 2, 2022