Howard Government Elected To Second Term; Beazley & Lees Lose Seats; Crean To Challenge Evans; Kernot Loses Dickson
The Liberal and National Parties were returned to power last night in an unexpectedly strong showing in the general election.
Whilst losing 7 seats, the coalition gained two from the ALP and three more from independents. Pauline Hanson failed to win in the Queensland electorate of Blair and Democrats leader Senator Meg Lees looks certain to lose her South Australian Senate seat. At the close of counting last night, the coalition looked set to take 92 of the 148 seats in the House of Representatives, a net loss of only 2 seats.
But the big surprise of the night was the shock defeat of Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, in his seat of Brand in Western Australia. The ALP was stunned as counting showed One Nation polling around 30% of the vote. It is expected that preference distribution will deliver the seat to the Liberal candidate, Rick Palmer. A visibly shaken Kim Beazley, addressing Labor supporters, apologised for losing the election and then endorsed Mark Latham for the ALP leadership. Beazley said he was finished with politics and would “never, ever” return to Parliament.
There was a national swing of 1.2% against the coalition, but this was confined mainly to safe Labor electorates. In the marginal seats in all capital cities, the Liberal Party managed to contain the swing. As expected, the Liberal Party polled relatively poorly in Victoria where it lost the seats of Chisholm, Deakin, La Trobe and Bendigo, but increased its vote in electorates such as McMillan, Dunkley, McEwen and Ballarat.
The Liberals also lost the seats of Makin in South Australia, Canning in Western Australia and Bowman in Queensland. But to the delight of coalition officials, Queensland remained solidly behind the government. Former Democrats leader, Cheryl Kernot, was soundly defeated in Dickson. In addition to Mr. Beazley’s seat of Brand, the Liberal Party also wrested the electorate of Dobell from Shadow Health Minister, Michael Lee. One of the bright spots for the ALP was the retaking of Oxley in Queensland.
Independent members fared badly in the election. In Kalgoorlie, former ALP member Graeme Campbell lost his seat to the Liberal Party, which also recaptured Moore from Paul Filing. The National Party regained the South Coast electorate of Calare in NSW, defeating Mr. Peter Andren.
One Nation polled strongly in Queensland and New South Wales, but is not likely to win any seats in the lower house, although it is certain of a Senate seat in each state and is locked in a battle with the Liberal Party for the final Senate seat in South Australia where Democrats leader, Senator Meg Lees, faces certain defeat.
Claiming victory, John Howard, expressed his gratitude to the electorate for having the “ticker” to embrace the difficult matter of taxation reform. He said that the “great adventure” he embarked upon over a year ago would now result in improved economic conditions for all Australians. Although he expressed some concern about the deteriorating world economic situation, the Prime Minister said he was confident the government would be able to implement all of its election promises.
Howard called upon the Australian Democrats, who will now hold the balance of power in the Senate, to think of the nation’s interests and pass his tax package. He announced that he had spoken to Democrats deputy leader, Natasha Stott-Despoja, and had arranged to meet with her in the coming week to discuss the government’s legislative program.
Oldfield To Stand Aside For Hanson?
Pauline Hanson conceded defeat last night in the Queensland seat of Blair and immediately raised the prospect of entering the Senate via David Oldfield’s NSW seat.
Mr. Oldfield polled 14.7% of the vote and is assured of a Senate seat. He was unavailable for comment last night about the possibility of standing aside for Mrs. Hanson.
Speaking to journalists, the One Nation leader last night said that she owed it to her supporters to enter the Senate and do everything she could to save Australia from the GST and to prevent the sale of the remainder of Telstra.
Crean Lays Claim To Labor Leadership
Labor frontbencher, Simon Crean, made a play for the ALP leadership last night when the full dimensions of the party’s loss became clear.
In a thinly disguised attack on the tax plan the ALP presented in the election campaign, Crean was dismissive of the capital gains tax proposal, implicity criticising Gareth Evans.
Crean drew attention to the 3% swing against Evans in the Melbourne electorate of Holt. Crean represents the neighbouring seat of Hotham where he experienced a swing of 2% towards the ALP.
Senior Labor officials who did not wish to be named said that the party should consider a leadership team of Simon Crean with Bob McMullan as his deputy.
The defeat is more devastating for the ALP than its 1996 loss. As in 1977, when the ALP was trying to recover from the electoral debacle of 1975, the party has made few gains and will face a re-elected government with a majority likely to be at least 36. Its chances of returning to power at the next election have been diminished by the failure to make ground at this election. The defeat of its leader and of high profile candidates such as Cheryl Kernot is a blow to attempts by the ALP to rebuild following the Keating disaster of 1996.