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Crikey

Labor closes in on majority as Liberals reflect on massacre

Labor is inching towards a narrow majority government despite recording a primary vote of just 32.8%. Meanwhile, the Liberal Party looks for answers after its devastating defeat.

The ALP finished up the night on 72 seats, four short of what’s needed to govern in its own right, but enough for Anthony Albanese to claim victory as prime minister-elect.

When counting resumed this morning, Labor edged ahead in a number of line-ball seats. It leads in Liberal-held Bennelong, Sturt and Deakin, the latter now called as a likely gain by the ABC. The party looks set to narrowly hang on in Lingiari and Lyons, and could see off a Greens scare in Macnamara. 

In Gilmore, so far the only potential Liberal gain, Labor is back in front. If Labor wins those seven seats, it will have a majority of 79. It could pick up two more unexpected gains — it’s running neck and neck in Menzies, just 45 votes short, and is a few hundred behind in Moore, never a target seat but in play thanks to the huge swing in Western Australia.

Labor’s biggest, most unnecessary loss is in the once-safe seat of Fowler, in Sydney’s diverse south-west, where independent Dai Le has defeated blow-in Kristina Keneally. The Greens’ Max Chandler-Mather has won Kevin Rudd’s old seat of Griffith from Terri Butler.

Over in the Senate, early signs are pointing to a huge result for progressives who could hold a majority in the upper house. Independent David Pocock is on track to unseat Zed Seselja in the ACT. The Greens look poised to pick up an additional seat in NSW, SA and Queensland, with the latter coming at the expense of hard-right LNP rising star Amanda Stoker and One Nation leader Pauline Hanson. The Lambie Network’s Tammy Tyrrell is poised to win a spot in Tasmania at veteran conservative Liberal Eric Abetz’s expense.

Despite big progressive wins across the country, this still isn’t a clear landslide victory for Labor, and the election will end the historical narrative that it can only win from opposition on the back of a sweeping, definitive swing in its favour. 

But as counting continues, what’s clear is that this is a landslide defeat for the Liberal Party. The Coalition is likely to finish up with fewer than 60 seats in the House of Representatives — its worst showing at an election since 1983.

The party has been particularly devastated in the capital cities where it lost seats to Labor, the Greens and teal independents. So far the Liberals have just one seat in Melbourne, and are looking at three at best. It could wind up with none in Adelaide and Perth. 

Now the recriminations must begin for a party already bitterly divided well before the campaign kicked off. Asked to diagnose what went wrong for the party, Simon Birmingham, one of the few moderates left, pointed to the unnecessarily protracted same-sex marriage debate and the National Energy Guarantee as key turning points in driving socially progressive Liberal voters away.

Birmingham also said Australia should commit to increasing its 2030 emissions reduction target of 26% to 28%.

It was a different story over on Sky News, where conservative Senator Alex Antic had his own diagnosis for the party’s electoral collapse: “The Liberal Party’s experiment with the poison of leftism and progressivism must be over.”

But for NSW Treasurer Matt Kean, the state’s most powerful moderate, the message was that the party had veered away from the heartland: “When the Liberal Party goes too far to the right, we lose in the centre.”

There will be many more days of sniping, as conservatives and moderates within the crumbling broad church jostle to accuse the other side of leading the party to its huge defeat.

Morrison, who announced last night he would step down as leader, must shoulder a huge chunk of the blame — his abrasive leadership style clearly alienated voters across the country.

With Josh Frydenberg gone, and the party shorn of moderates, the path is clear for Peter Dutton to step up as opposition leader. Angus Taylor and Dan Tehan are both outside names that have been thrown into the mix.