Brisbane, Australia (CNN)Australian voters have delivered a sharp rebuke to the center-right government, ending nine years of conservative rule, in favor of the center-left opposition that promised stronger action on climate change.
Australian voters deliver strong message on climate, ending conservative government's 9-year rule
Australian Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese claimed victory Saturday, though it was unclear as counting continued if his party would have the 76 seats required to form a majority.
Early counting showed a strong swing towards Greens candidates and Independents who demanded emissions cuts far above the commitments made by the ruling conservative coalition.
Amanda McKenzie, CEO of the research group the Climate Council, declared climate action the winner of the vote.
"Millions of Australians have put climate first. Now, it's time for a radical reset on how this great nation of ours acts upon the climate challenge," she said in a statement.
Other than climate, this election focused on the character of the leaders. Incumbent Scott Morrison. was deeply unpopular with voters and seemed to acknowledge as much when he admitted during the last week of the campaign that he had been a "bit of a bulldozer." He was referring to making hard decisions during the pandemic and severing a submarine deal with France, but it reflected claims about his leadership style as being more authoritarian than collaborative.
Speaking to his supporters late Saturday night, Morrison said he had called Albanese and congratulated him on his election victory. "I've always believed in Australians and their judgment, and I've always been prepared to accept their verdict," he said.
Just before midnight, Albanese walked out to to cheers from his supporters and said he would seek to unite the nation. "I will work every day to bring Australians together. And I will lead a government worthy of the people of Australia."
He added: "I can promise all Australians this no matter how you voted today, the government I lead will respect every one of you every day."
One of Albanese's first priorities as Prime Minister will be to rebuild relations with foreign leaders he says Morrison has neglected in recent years. They include Pacific Island leaders, including the Solomon Islands whose leader signed a security pact with Beijing, stoking fears that China plans to build its first military base in the Pacific.
On Tuesday, Albanese intends to travel Tokyo with Foreign Minister Penny Wong for talks with Quad members from the United States, India and Japan, where they'll discuss priorities to safeguard free passage in the Indo-Pacific.
The climate crisis was one of the defining issues of the election, as one of the few points of difference between the coalition and Labor, and a key concern of voters, according to polls.
Marija Taflaga, lecturer in politics and international relations at the Australian National University, said the swing towards the Greens was remarkable. "I think everyone has been taken by surprise by these results...I think it will mean there will be greater and faster action on climate change more broadly."