Anthony Albanese, leader of Australia’s Labor Party, his partner Jodie Haydon and son Nathan Albanese, during a victory rally in Sydney, on May 21, 2022. Image Credit: Reuters

Sydney: Australia's opposition leader Anthony Albanese claimed victory Saturday in national elections.

"The Australian people have voted for change. I am humbled by this victory," he told cheering supporters in Sydney after Prime Minister Scott Morrison conceded defeat.

Albanese vowed to make Australia a renewable energy "superpower", give indigenous people a voice in national policy-making, and make equal opportunity for women a national priority.

Albanese recalled his childhood, brought up by a single mother in Sydney public housing. "My mother dreamt of a better life for me. And I hope that my journey in life inspires Australians to reach for the stars," the 59-year-old said.

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Albanese (centre) and Labour candidate for Higgins Dr Michelle Ananda-Rajah (right) pose for a selfie with Labor supporters at a polling station during election day in Carnegie, Melbourne, on May 21, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

"I want Australia to continue to be a country that no matter where you live, who you worship, you would love, or what your last name is, that places no restrictions on your journey in life."

Earlier Prime Minister Scott Morrison  conceded defeat and congratulated Albanese on the victory for the Labor Party, which was closing in on a majority in the 151-seat parliament. The Australian Broadcasting Commission said Labor won at least 72 seats, compared with 52 for Morrison's Liberal-National Coalition, with independents and third parties taking the rest.

"In this country, at a time like this, when we look around the world, and particularly when we see those in the Ukraine fighting for their very freedom and liberty, I think on a night like tonight we can reflect on the greatness of our democracy," Morrison said in conceding the election. "I congratulate Anthony Albanese and the Labor Party and I wish him and his government all the very best."

Morrison votes with his wife Jenny at the Lilli Pilli Public School in his southern Sydney electorate. Image Credit: AFP

Albanese, a career politician with working-class roots, is poised to inherit an economy with record-low unemployment that is also facing the fastest price gains since June 2001. He’s promised to increase wages for workers, improve the social-safety net and do more to fight climate change in a nation that exports more fossil fuels than any country apart from Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Morrison’s coalition trailed the Labor Party in opinion surveys throughout the campaign as it vied for a fourth term in office, with the nation’s 26 million people becoming frustrated over his management of the pandemic and his handling of climate-change related natural disasters. In the final Newspoll survey before the election, Morrison’s net approval rating was nearly three times lower than his opponent.

People casting vores in Melbourne. Image Credit: AFP

Albanese will face an immediate foreign-policy test, as Australia’s leader is set to head to Tokyo to participate in meetings of the Quad alongside President Joe Biden, Japan’s Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The grouping of democracies has picked up momentum in recent years as a key bloc countering China’s growing economic and military might in the region.

Although Morrison sought to present Albanese as soft on China, the Labor party adopted a very similar policy to the government toward Australia’s largest trading partner. Ties between the nations have soured in recent years as Morrison called for a probe into the origins of Covid-19 and sought to stem Chinese political interference, leading to trade reprisals from Beijing.

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People line up to vote in Melbourne. Image Credit: AFP

China’s security pact with the Solomon Islands, which sits some 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) away from Australia, disrupted Morrison’s efforts to make national defence a key part of his campaign strategy. Labor described the announcement as Canberra’s worst foreign policy failure since World War II, with Albanese vowing to fix relations with the country’s Pacific neighbours.

While polling showed support for Labor’s campaign over the “cost of living crisis” in Australia, few inside Albanese’s team publicly predicted victory after the Coalition’s surprise come-from-behind win in 2019, which Morrison described as a “miracle.” Now the party can finally celebrate.

Morrison voted with his wife Jenny at the Lilli Pilli Public School in his southern Sydney electorate.

He later used the rare interception of a suspected asylum seeker boat attempting to enter Australian waters as a reason why voters should reelect his government.

Australian Border Force said in a statement the boat had been intercepted in a “likely attempt to illegally enter Australia from Sri Lanka.’’

The Australian policy was to return those on board to their point of departure, the statement said.

Morrison argues Labor would be weaker on preventing people smugglers from trafficking asylum seekers.

“I’ve been here to stop this boat, but in order for me to be there to stop those that may come from here, you need to vote Liberal and Nationals today,’’ Morrison told reporters, referring to his coalition.

The boat carrying 15 passengers was intercepted near the Australian Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island on Saturday morning, The Weekend Australian newspaper reported.