You climate voters did this!

Climate voters herald an irrevocable change to politics

The Coalition, which has weaponised climate change policy at every election since 2010, found itself for the first time on the receiving end, with the most brutal of consequences.

Image : from AFR election results. 4 still to call; 78.76% counted

Phillip Coorey
Phillip CooreyPolitical editor AFR


Updated May 29, 2022 – 9.14pm

Anthony Albanese’s feat in becoming just the fourth Labor leader to take the party to victory from opposition since World War II is remarkable in itself.

However, the circumstances in which it was achieved are so utterly unorthodox that Albanese’s victory is but part of a bigger story – one which has perhaps ushered in an irrevocable change to the political landscape.

Climate change and issues of integrity were front of mind in the teal seats.  Joe Armao

Consider these aberrations. Labor will form government, quite possibly majority government, from a primary vote of just 32.9 per cent, lower than the 33.3 per cent it received in 2019, a result that was considered then as catastrophic for the ALP.

Even if it scrapes home with a bare majority of 76 seats, the result won’t be emphatic, as every other election since the war has been when there has been a change of government.

Labor won power without making any inroads in Queensland. It even lost a seat there to the Greens. Another norm dispelled.

And not insignificantly, the Coalition, which has weaponised climate change policy at every election since 2010, found itself for the first time on the receiving end, with the most brutal of consequences.

Women, climate, cost of living

As the smoke cleared on Sunday, both sides agreed the number one driver of what happened on Saturday was the strong dislike of Scott Morrison, especially among women.

Allegra Spender celebrates her election win with supporters at Bondi Beach on Sunday. James Alcock

The next two causes were the cost of living and climate change. Morrison was spot on last week when he said there were two tiers of voters whose concerns were largely income-based.

Cost of living played out in the suburbs and the regions, while climate change and issues of integrity were front of mind in the teal seats. The trouble for the Coalition was that it got smacked on both fronts.

The teal movement surpassed all expectations and wiped out six moderate Liberals, including Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, and jagged a Senate spot in the ACT.

For all the attention on Clive Palmer and his billions, which had little effect, it was another tycoon, Simon Holmes a Court and his Climate 200 millions, that effected real change.

Labor needs the Greens

Not to be outdone were the Greens. The party won three extra senators, giving it 12 and the sole balance of power in the Senate. Labor can’t pass anything through the Senate without the Greens, if it does not have the support of the Coalition opposition.

And the Greens are on track to take two, maybe three, seats in Queensland, swelling its lower house ranks to as many as four.

Again, if Albanese falls short of majority government, the Greens alone have the numbers to do deals in the lower house.

An ‘earthquake’ around climate

Back in 2009, ahead of the first climate election, the Nationals described themselves as the mouse that roared when they destroyed Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd over climate change.

Over a decade later, science and reality has prevailed, and the progressive vote has roared. Both major parties need to be cautious.

“It’s like an earthquake that’s been coming for a while around climate and educated voters,” said a member of Labor’s brains trust.

Recipe for a split

The Liberal Party faces an existential crisis. The immediate reflex from surviving moderates such as Simon Birmingham is the need to move left and win back the heartland seats taken from them.

Be it same-sex marriage under Malcolm Turnbull, or net-zero emissions by 2050 under Morrison, the party had arrived at both positions but under such agonising and divisive circumstances that the damage was already done, he said.

But look at what’s left of the Liberals. At least 10 moderates have been wiped out, leaving Peter Dutton as the only realistic leadership contender, and conservatives in the majority.

Barnaby Joyce will be emboldened. 

Moreover, the Nationals held every one of their seats. Yes, there were swings against them, but this was in part a correction of the inflated swings towards them at the last election due to the Adani episode.

The Nationals will be emboldened, and the loss of up to 20 Liberals mean the Nationals will have many more places on the opposition frontbench.

This does not augur well for a shift to the left. It’s more a recipe for a split.

Refocus on suburbs and regions

The Coalition could well refocus on the suburbs and the regions and shun the inner-city seats. Labor started being slowly driven from these same electorates some time ago, with the loss of Melbourne to the Greens in 2010.

On Saturday, Labor’s shadow environment minster Terri Butler was booted out of Kevin Rudd’s old seat of Griffith by the Greens, who may also take the Liberal seats of Brisbane and Ryan.

Moderate Liberal Katie Allen is one of up to 10 who lost their seats. 

Given what happened to Butler, Labor can only be grateful Climate 200 did not come after its inner-city seats as well.

Labor deliberately abandoned the left in the run-up to the election, so it could appeal to the centre on hip-pocket issues.

Labor vacated the climate field

While Labor had a solid climate change policy launched late last year, it refused to promote it because it regarded climate change as an issue to be neutralised, not promoted.

And that vacated the field for the teals and the Greens.

“We built a broad coalition for that policy, and we would have liked to have picked up more climate-conscious voters in the city, so we have to work out why that hasn’t been the case,” said shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers.

The crossbench could be up to 15-strong and except for Bob Katter, they are all serious about climate change action.

Albanese said his climate policy was non-negotiable and Labor would enact it unlegislated if need be. This is as much about giving business certainty as anything else.

If Labor can reach 76 or 77 seats, it will not need any of the 15 crossbenchers. It could also make life easier for itself by convincing someone like Andrew Wilkie to become Speaker.

But the sheer spectre of such a large crossbench hovering over its shoulder will be a constant reminder to the new government of the forces that have been unleashed, and just how powerful they can be if you do not do their bidding.

Phillip Coorey is the political editor based in Canberra. He is a two-time winner of the Paul Lyneham award for press gallery excellence. Connect with Phillip on Facebook and Twitter. Email Phillip at
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