Australian election 2016: Malcolm Turnbull says Coalition can form majority despite dramatic losses

The Guardian

Sunday 3 June 2016 01:16am

Gabrielle Chan

  • Coalition loses at least 11 seats in Australian election but expects to hang on to power
  • Final result won’t be known until Tuesday
  • Conservatives criticise PM over campaign and key policies

Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition has been pushed to the brink in a shock election result which saw the Liberal party lose at least 11 seats, with 30% of the vote still left to be counted.

At a speech given after midnight, the prime minister claimed the Liberal and National parties would form a Coalition majority government even though he had been advised the result would not become clear until at least Tuesday.

“Based on the advice I have from the party officials, we can have every confidence that we will form a Coalition majority government in the next parliament,” he said.

On a two-party-preferred basis, Labor was leading the Coalition on 50.06% to 49.94% on a two party preferred basis at time of publication.

The prime minister left supporters and talk shows waiting late into the night for his speech as it became clear there would be no definitive result. It was 12.30am when Turnbull finally appeared.

Turnbull accused the Labor party of running “some of the most systematic, well-funded lies ever peddled in Australia” in a campaign in which Labor claimed the Coalition was planning to privatise the government funded health insurance system, Medicare.

Turnbull questioned whether there would be a police investigation over the Labor campaign and he accused Labor of sending texts to voters claiming the Coalition would sell Medicare.

After a marathon eight-week campaign, the Liberal party has lost 11 seats to Labor, including Bass, Braddon, Lindsay, Lyons, Macquarie, Eden Monaro, Longman, Macarthur, Herbert, Burt and Solomon.

Labor has lost the seat of Chisholm to the Liberal party. The National’s Damien Drum took Murray from the Liberals following the retirement of Sharman Stone.

While the make up of the Senate remains unclear, Rebekha Sharkie of the independent senator Nick Xenophon’s new party has won the seat of Mayo from the former Liberal minister Jamie Briggs, who was also her former employer.

Seats too close to call at time of publication include Cowan, Capricornia, Batman, Flynn, Hindmarsh and Forde.

The result places Turnbull under extraordinary pressure from the conservative end of his party and even before he was sighted in public, conservative members of his party were flagging changes to key policies like superannuation.

A triumphant Bill Shorten arrived at the Moonee Valley racing club in Melbourne just after 11pm on Saturday, claiming Labor was back and the Liberal party had lost his mandate.

“We will not know the outcome of this election tonight,” Shorten said. “Indeed, we may not know it for some days to come. But there is one thing for sure – the Labor party is back.”

He added: “Three years after the Liberals came to power in a landslide, they have lost their mandate.”

Shorten said the result was a clear rejection of Turnbull’s “ideological agenda” and Turnbull could no longer claim he could deliver stability.

He listed the Labor “mandate”, including Medicare policy, penalty rates, National Broadband Network and Gonski education policy.

Senior Liberals were fuming at Labor’s Medicare campaign in the final two weeks of the campaign, with the treasurer, Scott Morrison, the deputy Liberal leader, Julie Bishop, and Eric Abetz all blaming the Labor campaign for the seat loss.

But they were also forced to defend the Liberal campaign and the leadership change from Tony Abbott to Turnbull in September last year. Asked whether the leadership change made a difference, Morrison said: “Look, that is a matter we will never know.”

He added: “I think it’s highly unlikely. I think the party room made its own judgment last September.”

Bishop defended the Liberal party’s strategy as a positive campaign “of integrity”.

Asked about the effect of the change of leadership, Abetz, one of Abbott’s key supporters, said: “suffice to say a change was made for better or for worse, we move on and we’ve got to ensure Malcolm Turnbull is returned as prime minister for the sake of the nation.”

But Abetz committed to take the Coalition’s superannuation plan to the party room after the election, blaming the policy for a “haemorrhage” of votes.

“The emails coming into my office were very strident in their criticism, there was the view there was retrospectivity, there was the view they had worked hard, saved hard and doorknocking was also recurring theme,” he said.

“Regrettably some wanted to punish us for that and we did fight very hard saying be careful you don’t jump out of the frying into the fire. I fear some of them may have done that and regrettably we did haemorrhage some votes in that area as well.”

Abetz said he would move in the party room to change the superannuation policy. “I for one would be advocating we reconsider some aspects of it,” he said. “Clearly it has hurt our core constituency, those people who had scrimped and saved indeed.

“I think we do need to look at it to make sure it is fair, it is targeted and we don’t scare people away from saving and looking after themselves into the future.”

The deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, held off a challenge from former independent Tony Windsor, as did the National MP for Cowper, Luke Hartsuyker, from the former independent Rob Oakeshott.

The Australian Electoral Commission estimated 10 million Australians attended 7000 polling booths to vote. The electoral commissioner, Tom Rogers, apologised for unusually long waits at polling places.


Rogers said changes to the Senate voting rules were “the most significant changes to voting in 30 years”.

“This, in combination with record nominations in some seats, appears to have resulted in voters taking greater care and more time to cast their vote,” he said.

As the result unfolded, from the first votes counted, Tasmanian seats held by Liberals showed swings towards Labor, including with Bass, Braddon and Lyons.

Morrison, on the ABC’s election panel, was visibly angry at the result – describing it as a “campaign about fright”.

“I don’t know what is more audacious, the size of the lie that has been told or the boasting on the back of it,” he said.

“We know they told the lie, they got exposed on the lie yet they continued to back it in with the phone calls and the mail and the little cards and the whispers at the booths and all of these sorts of things.

“This was the Labor party’s campaign. It wasn’t a campaign about growing the economy, it was a campaign about fright.”