Prime Minister Scott Morrison conceded defeat Saturday after a federal election in Australia, and the opposition Labor Party was set to end almost a decade of conservative rule, possibly with the support of pro-environment independents.

Morrison acted quickly after Saturday’s election, despite millions of votes yet to be counted, because an Australian prime minister must attend a Tokyo summit on Tuesday with U.S., Japanese and Indian leaders.

“Tonight, I have spoken to the leader of the opposition and the incoming prime minister, Anthony Albanese. And I’ve congratulated him on his election victory this evening,” Morrison told supporters. 

“I believe it’s very important that this country has certainty. I think it’s very important this country can move forward,” Morrison said.

Liberal Party faithful react as they watch election results on a large video screen at an event in Sydney on Saturday. (Mark Baker/The Associated Press)

“And particularly over the course of this week with the important meetings that are being held, I think it’s vitally important there’s a very clear understanding about the government of this country.”

Albanese will be sworn in as prime minister, with his centre-left Australian Labor Party getting its first electoral win since 2010, when Julia Gillard began a three-year term as prime minister.

Anthony Albanese, centre, leader of Australia’s Labor Party, celebrates with his son, Nathan, right, and his partner, Jodie Haydon, in Sydney on Sunday. (Rick Rycroft/The Associated Press)

In conceding defeat, Morrison said he would stand down as leader of the Liberal Party of Australia, which was seeking a fourth three-year term.

The capitulation ends eight years and nine months in power for Morrison’s conservative coalition. He became prime minister in 2018 after several leadership changes.

A ‘sense of common purpose’

Albanese said he wanted to bring Australians together as he made his first comments after Morrison’s announcement and nine years in opposition.

“I want to unite the country,” Albanese told reporters as he left his home late on Saturday night to attend a Labor Party celebration in Sydney.

“I think people want to come together, look for our common interest, look toward that sense of common purpose. I think people have had enough of division, what they want is to come together as a nation, and I intend to lead that.”

Congratulations, @AlboMP, on being elected Prime Minister of Australia. Our countries are close friends – and I’m looking forward to building on that with you, moving forward with progressive ideas, tackling climate change, and delivering results for people in both our countries.

@JustinTrudeau

Labor focused on inflation, wages

Labor had promised more financial assistance and a robust social safety net as Australia grapples with its highest inflation since 2001 and soaring housing prices.

The party also said it would increase minimum wages — and on the foreign policy front, it proposed to establish a Pacific defence school to train neighbouring armies in response to China’s potential military presence on the Solomon Islands, on Australia’s doorstep.

Labor Party supporters react to election updates broadcast on a screen in Sydney on Saturday while they wait for Albanese to speak about the outcome of the country’s general election. (Jaimi Joy/Reuters)

It also wants to tackle climate change with a more ambitious 43 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

As Labor focused on spiking inflation and sluggish wage growth, Morrison made the country’s lowest unemployment in almost half a century the centrepiece of his campaign’s final hours.

In early counting on Saturday, Morrison’s coalition was on track to win 38 seats and Labor 71, while seven were unaligned legislators and 23 races were too close to call.

Labor had yet to reach the 76 of the 151 lower house seats required to form a government alone. Final results could take time as counting of a record number of mail-in votes is completed. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 48 per cent of Australia’s 17 million electors voted early or applied to vote by mail.

Independents gaining 

Minor parties and independents appeared to be taking votes from the major parties, which increases the likelihood of a minority government.

Partial results showed Morrison’s Liberal-National coalition had been punished by voters in Western Australia and affluent urban seats in particular.

In at least five affluent Liberal-held seats, “teal independents” looked set to win, tapping voter anger over inaction on climate change after some of the worst floods and fires to ever hit Australia.

Early returns suggested the Greens had also made ground, looking to pick up to three seats in Queensland state.