Australia Conservatives Snatch Unwinnable Election On Economy

(Bloomberg) -
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to party supporters after his opponent concedes defeat in the federal election in Sydney, Australia, Sunday, May 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Australia’s center-right government clung to power in a surprise victory, with voters backing its stewardship of a slowing economy for another three years and rejecting the opposition’s progressive agenda.

Despite trailing in most opinion polls for years, Scott Morrison’s Liberal-National coalition closed down the gap with a relentless attack on Labor’s pledge to take tougher action on climate change and strip tax perks from wealthy Australians. For Labor leader Bill Shorten, the loss is akin to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 failure to win the U.S. presidency.

“I have always believed in miracles,” Morrison, 51, told cheering supporters in Sydney, flanked by his wife and two daughters. “Tonight we’ve been delivered another one.”

Shorten, 52, ran on Australia’s most progressive agenda in decades, including tax cuts for low-income workers, increases to the minimum wage, sweeping emissions curbs and scaling back concessions for property and stock market investors. That presented a big target for Morrison, with blanket media ads warning Shorten was “the Bill Australia can’t afford.”

The government also ran on its record of economic management, across-the-board tax cuts and a return to a budget surplus. In the final week, it announced support for first-home buyers, mixing that carrot with the stick of warnings that Labor’s proposal to curtail tax breaks for property investment would send prices tumbling.

Morrison’s victory is the biggest come-from-behind win in Australian politics since Labor’s Paul Keating pulled off the “unwinnable” 1993 election. Like that poll, it was consistent warnings against the opposition’s expansive program that underpinned Morrison’s win.

Australia’s near 28 years of uninterrupted economic growth is a developed-world record. But the harshest housing downturn in a generation and a deepening trade war between the nation’s biggest trading partner China and its most important ally America now threatens that streak, leaving voters receptive to Morrison’s call for continuity.