Saturday, September 7, 2013
DJ: Australia's Conservatives Sweep To Power
SYDNEY--Australia's conservative opposition won a resounding victory in national elections, handing the Labor party one of its worst ever defeats and installing Tony Abbott as the nation's prime minister.
Mr. Abbott siezed power after enticing voters with a batch of promises including lower taxes, tougher border security, and measures to revive the economy as a long mining boom slows. His rival, outgoing prime minister Kevin Rudd, conceded defeat.
As of 1128 GMT, the Liberal Nationals had won 81 seats in the 150-seat lower house of Parliament, where governments are formed--more than the 73 secured in the 2010 election. Labor had won 54 seats, while three more went to smaller parties or nonparty candidates. The result doesn't look as bad for Labor as some exit polls had suggested, with 12 seats yet to be counted.
For Labor, the defeat is likely to spark recriminations in a party troubled by years of infighting that led to two recent leadership coups--one in which Julia Gillard ousted Mr. Rudd three years ago, and a second in June that saw the opposite happen.
On Saturday, Mr. Rudd held onto his own seat in Brisbane, in the eastern state of Queensland. However, in the bellwether seat of Lindsay in western Sydney, which has voted for the winning party since its creation in 1984, a Liberal-National candidate defeated a Labor incumbent.
In one of the biggest surprises of the night, billionaire mining entrepreneur Clive Palmer looked set to win a seat in the lower house, representing the newly founded Palmer United Party.
Labor briefly enjoyed a sharp boost in support immediately after Mr. Rudd's return that brought it neck-and-neck with Mr. Abbott's coalition. But despite a number of policy reversals aimed at winning over conservative voters, support for Labor quickly began to slip.
"We all know disunity is death in politics," said Peter Beattie, a Labor politician who contested a seat in Brisbane. "People frankly thought it had gone on for too long and they wanted stability."
The coalition's win bodes well for a party that appears to be relatively united. Australians have tended to give administrations at least two successive three-year terms before voting them out. Since 1949, the country has changed governments only six times.
The new government has vowed to lead Australia through the transition away from a decadelong mining boom, fueled by Asian demand for the nation's raw materials, that is expected to fade as China's economy, in particular, slows.
Some signs of a slowdown are already present, however. Australia's US$1.5 trillion economy expanded 2.6% in the second quarter from a year earlier, compared with 3.7% growth in the same quarter of 2012, and 4.4% in the first quarter of that year. The central bank recently cut its growth forecast for this year.
Mr. Abbott has also pledged to cut government spending, scrap both the carbon tax and a levy on the excessive profits of some mining companies, and tighten border security to stop asylum seekers from reaching Australia by boat. Many of the refugees come from countries including Iran, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.
The coalition has strong support in the nation's suburbs and rural districts, inhabited by the upper middle class and farming communities. Labor's heartland is metropolitan areas dominated by blue-collar workers.
Mr. Abbott, 55, narrowly missed becoming prime minister in 2010. His support really began to take off after Ms. Gillard, in 2011, broke a campaign promise by introducing the carbon tax on the nation's biggest polluters. The policy, introduced after pressure from the Greens, is blamed for driving up energy costs for many consumers and businesses.
A record 15 million people were registered to vote in the nation of 23 million. The campaign was dominated by the economy, with both sides appealing to voters to trust their ability to steer the nation through a downturn as a long mining boom recedes.
Support for the center-left Labor party began to dip about two years after it defeated the last conservative administration by a large majority in 2007. Labor lost favor after introducing unpopular taxes on mining profits and carbon emissions. Support dipped further after it failed to honor a promise to return to a budget surplus.
The drop in Labor's popularity has occurred even after the government steered the country through the financial crisis without a recession. Over its six years in power, it kept economic growth rates at levels well above those of most other advanced economies.
Alongside the 150 seats in the lower house, half of the Senate's 76 spots were contested. The battle for seats in the Senate, where laws go for final approval, may prove critical in this election. In order to scrap the carbon and mining taxes, Mr. Abbott would need a majority in the upper house, where the Greens currently hold the balance of power. Opinion polls indicate the Liberal Nationals will struggle to win a senate majority this time around.
More than 50 political parties vied for seats-close to double the number that took part in the 2010 election when Ms. Gillard, with reduced support for Labor, formed a minority government with the support of the pro-environment Greens and some nonparty lawmakers.