SYDNEY -- Nine years of conservative rule in Australia came to an end on Saturday, as Anthony Albanese's Labor Party defeated Prime Minister Scott Morrison's Liberal-National coalition in the country's federal election.
Morrison conceded the election, with local broadcaster ABC projecting at midnight local time that Labor had 72 seats while the ruling Liberal-National coalition was on 54. Other parties were projected to win 11, with 14 seats in doubt. Counting has ceased for the night and will continue on Sunday.
It remains to be seen if Labor will reach the 76 seats in the lower house of parliament needed to form a majority government, but leader Anthony Albanese is set to become the nation's next prime minister.
"Tonight the Australian people have voted for change. I am humbled by this victory and I'm honored to be given the opportunity to serve as the 31st prime minister of Australia," Albanese told supporters in Sydney.
"My fellow Australians, it says a lot about our great country that a son of a single mum who was a disability pensioner, who grew up in public housing down the road in Camperdown can stand before you tonight as Australia's prime minister," he said. "I want Australia to continue to be a country that no matter where you live, who you worship, who you love or what your last name is, that places no restrictions on your journey in life."
In conceding the election, Morrison defended his record on the economy and national security in his four years as leader. He also congratulated his opponent.
"Tonight, I've 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 said, who added he would step down as Liberal Party leader.
"I've always believed in Australians and their judgment, and I've always been prepared to accept their verdicts. And tonight they have delivered their verdict, and I congratulate Anthony Albanese and the Labor Party and I wish him and his government all the very best."
Support for Morrison's coalition has eroded in recent years over his poor handling of national crises raised questions about his leadership qualities.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Morrison government came under fire over vaccine delays. The prime minister was also criticized for taking a Hawaii vacation as wildfires blazed in 2019 and over his poor handling of floods earlier this year.
Smaller parties and the so-called teals -- female independent candidates who brand themselves with a mix of conservative blue and environmentalist green -- performed strongly, eroding support for the major parties.
Albanese, 59, was raised in public housing in a working-class Sydney suburb by his mother who received a disability pension. Since first being elected to parliament in 1996, he has worked energetically on human rights issues and is known as a defender of LGBTQ and immigrant rights, as well as Australia's free health care system.
Labor pledges to deliver tax relief for more than 9 million Australians through cuts that would benefit everyone with incomes above 45,000 Australian dollars ($31,000), has pledged to increase the low-and middle-income tax offset by AU$420 this year, as well as building 30,000 new social and affordable housing units over five years.
Albanese has tried to appeal to women by floating the idea of closing the gender pay gap and improving their career options.
The ruling coalition had targeted Labor as a friend of China during the campaign. But in the wake of China's recent security deal with the Solomon Islands, however, Labor blasted Morrison for failing to prevent it.
Labor plans to open a defense school to train Pacific islands' security forces, along with a vow to increase foreign aid to the South Pacific by another AU$525 million over the next four years.
"Australians have chosen and they have chosen hope. Australians have chosen and they have looked to the future. A better future for all. A government that will act on climate change," incoming Foreign Minister Penny Wong said before introducing Albanese. "A government for women. A government that will look to unify. To bring people together. Not to divide. A Labor government."
On Saturday morning, voters gathered at the Darlinghurst Public School, a voting station for the Wentworth constituency in Sydney. Voters lined up with their families, children, friends and dogs, and after casting ballots, checked out stalls selling cupcakes and so-called democracy sausages.
"Certainly this election, I need to change that government," said 59-year-old Cris, who voted for Labor. "I think the Labor Party will do a lot better job in terms of trying to contain the cost of living."