Liberal Party suffers heavy losses in capital cities as voters demand action on climate

Anthony Albanese climate

Anthony Albanese. Source: AAP/AP photo/Rick Rycroft

Australians have voted overwhelmingly for stronger action on climate change, with stunning results across the country for both teal independents and the Greens delivering a harsh rebuke to the Morrison government’s years of foot-dragging on emissions reduction.

Both major parties scrapped for the centre during the six-week campaign, offering little soaring policy ambition as Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese sought to chip away at the other’s character.

But millions of voters wanted more. After three years of catastrophic bushfires and floods, the Morrison government’s vague fig leaf of a net zero plan wasn’t enough to convince the electorate it was in any way serious about lowering emissions.

Climate and integrity in politics were key issues galvanising teal independents in the Liberal Party’s affluent traditional heartland. That heartland has now been lost — voters in Wentworth, Mackellar, Goldstein, Kooyong, North Sydney and Curtin rejected their Liberal members, even if those members fought hard to distance themselves from the pro-coal wing of the National Party which has held the Coalition to ransom over climate.

Morrison dismissed those former blue-ribbon seats, which he did not visit during the campaign, as “less vulnerable to the impacts of the economy” than the suburban and regional electorates he unsuccessfully tried to win from Labor.

In Queensland, long written off as a conservative stronghold, voters also demanded more, and are set to deliver the Greens their greatest political triumph. The party will pick up Griffith from Labor and Ryan from the Liberals. The seat of Brisbane is also likely to turn green.

All those seats are in Brisbane, which has been hammered by catastrophic flooding more than once in the past 12 months. Queenslanders have seen the climate crisis lapping at their front doors — and voted accordingly.

“People have backed the Greens in record numbers and delivered a massive mandate for action on climate and inequality,” Greens leader Adam Bandt said.

For well over a decade, climate has been arguably the defining issue in Australian politics. Kevin Rudd’s prime ministership never really recovered from the failure of the carbon pollution reduction scheme. Climate robbed Malcolm Turnbull of the Liberal leadership twice — once in 2009, over his support for that scheme, and again in 2018, when his control of the party room unravelled over the National Energy Guarantee.

In 2019, Queensland coal country swung hardest against Labor, which went to the election with a more ambitious emissions reduction target than it did this time.

But this weekend, Australia finally got its definitive climate election. Lifelong Liberal voters wanted stronger action on climate change. Two Liberal seats were lost in the ‘Greenslide’.

Ever since Tony Abbott’s time as opposition leader, antipathy towards climate action has been a core political strategy for the Liberals. That antipathy has seen them demolished in the cities, and left moderates almost extinct in the federal party room.

During his victory speech last night, Prime Minister-elect Anthony Albanese promised to “end the climate wars”. With an opposition purged of moderates, probably led by a conservative hard-head in Peter Dutton, the Coalition is likely to try to keep fighting them.

But last night’s result was unequivocal. After a campaign where neither side (especially the Coalition) wanted to even talk about climate change, voters want more.

This article was first published by Crikey.

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