Climate Issues Decide Australian Election  


Australian voters stunned the pollsters and the experts in the general election on May 18th by returning the ruling coalition of conservative parties to office. Votes are still being counted and a few House races are still to be decided by a complicated preferential system, but the Liberal and National Parties (LNP) will have a majority with at least 77 and probably 78 seats in the 151-member House of Representatives.  
Seventy-eight would be four more seats than the coalition held in the previous parliament. The opposition Labor Party look to have won 67 seats, down four from the previous parliament.  
Labor’s ambitious climate policies were a major issue in the campaign. Labor pledged to enact mandatory targets of 50% renewable energy by 2030, 45% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and net-zero emissions by 2050. Prime Minister Scott Morrison focused on the enormous cost of these policies during the campaign, and Labor leader Bill Shorten tried to evade the question of costs. Labor’s anti-fossil-fuel agenda was especially damaging in the state of Queensland, a major coal producer and exporter, where they lost several seats.   
Elite opinion makers in Western capitals were shocked and mystified by the outcome. For example, London’s Guardian began their election story, “It was billed as the climate change election, and the climate lost.” The New York Times headlined their story, “It was supposed to be the climate change election. What happened?” A headline in an opinion column published on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s website explained what the Guardian and The New York Times failed to understand: “Voters feared climate policy more than climate change.”   
Jeremy Sammut in a column in the Canberra Times expanded on the same theme: “Unless Labor is prepared to rethink the political mistakes that led it to support climate policies that have greater appeal to well-off elites of Wentworth and Warringah than to the battlers of Penrith and Picton, its electoral prospects will remain bleak.” Warringah is the wealthy Sydney area constituency where former Prime Minister Tony Abbott lost by a wide margin to independent climate activist Zali Steggall. Abbott had held the seat for the LNP since 1994.   
Forty of the 76 seats in Australia’s Senate were also up for election. The results are determined by an even more complicated preferential and proportional system than the one used for House elections. With 72% of votes counted at time of writing, it appears that in the next parliament the LNP will have 34 seats, Labor 26, Green Party 8, and minor parties a total of 5. There are still three Senate seats to be decided in Queensland. Prominent climate skeptic and minor party candidate Malcolm Roberts is currently in second place and so is likely to be elected.