«He made a terrible mistake,» Mr Howard said. «This ‘big end of town’ stuff — [people] are all the big end of town if they make a few bob. We are not driven by class.»
Taking the stage with his wife and daughters at exactly midnight, Mr Morrison declared: «I have always believed in miracles … and tonight we’ve been delivered another one.»
He said it was a victory for the «quiet Australians», those he had identified in the campaign as a group who resisted the «shouty» rough-and-tumble of politics and simply wanted to get on with their work and family lives.
Mr Morrison proceeded through a roll call of new members, as well as the few who lost their seats such as former prime minister Tony Abbott, who was swept out of office by the voters of Warringah.
He also named Melissa McIntosh, who won the western Sydney seat of Lindsay off Labor, Phil Thompson in Herbert, Bridget Archer in Bass and «the big unit» Gavin Pearce in Braddon.
Mr Morrison gave particular thanks to «pretty much the whole state of Queensland», to which the raucous crowd began chanting: «Queensland! Queensland!»
Federal Liberal Party president Nick Greiner, who along with other senior officials designed the Coalition’s campaign, said Mr Morrison’s victory ranked alongside Paul Keating’s 1993 win over John Hewson as an incredible achievement and upset.
«It is really up there with 1993. This is certainly one for the true believers on the Liberal and National parties’ side,» Mr Greiner told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
He said the Coalition’s electoral strategy was unashamedly focused on a simple economic message compared to Labor’s far-ranging and ambitious reform agenda.
«We were unremittingly about the nature of Australia,» Mr Greiner said. «Labor had a very broad vision. They sort of had 20 cents on every number. We believed that our best chance would be to say to people: you don’t want more taxes and more government, you want less taxes and less government.»
«You can see from the nature of the result that in areas other than the inner-city … that’s pretty much what happened.»
Asked whether the lesson was that a small-target strategy was the best way to win a poll, Mr Greiner said: «You go to an election to win.» He said it showed «Australians don’t believe in a big-spending, throw-money-at-everything kind of approach».
«When Labor has won, they’ve won with a sensible, conservative strategy. Bill Shorten was trying to do a Gough Whitlam but it’s perfectly obvious Bill Shorten was never going to be either Gough or Bob Hawke,» Mr Greiner said
Former long-serving Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop said Mr Morrison had scored a victory over the pundits who had written off the government and over Labor’s «socialist» agenda.
«Morrison in the campaign really reached out to the Australian people and they saw him in a way they hadn’t known before. He won that campaign,» Ms Bishop said.
«It’s an enormous thing for him to do — to repair the damage that was done by the previous prime minister [Malcolm Turnbull] who lost 14 seats.»
In the space of a couple of hours – as the extent of Labor’s shortfall became clear – Mr Morrison went from someone considered likely to be an interim leader and a footnote in history to a giant of Liberal folklore.
Earlier in the day he refused to discuss his plans in the event of a loss, but by 8pm it was evident he would remain Liberal leader either as prime minister or opposition leader.
Even early in the night when a Labor victory was expected, Mr Morrison had received cross-factional support to remain in the leadership in the event of a loss, with endorsements from leading moderates Simon Birmingham, Arthur Sinodinos and Trent Zimmerman.
Nationals leader Michael McCormack also praised Mr Morrison for executing a «flawless campaign» without a mis-step.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton also singled out Mr Morrison for praise saying he had provided «amazing leadership».
«He’s distilled our message down to one which the Australian people understand. He’s been
able to campaign in marginal seats, he’s been able to put pressure on Bill Shorten, which is what Bill Shorten deserved. He needed to be called out, and he was,» Mr Dutton said.
There was a prevalent view that Mr Morrison’s popularity outside the city centres was crucial, especially in Queensland and Tasmania. But his reception in those states did not come at the expense of too many votes in the major capitals.
Mr Zimmerman said Mr Morrison was ideally placed to «bridge that gap» between the Liberal Party’s liberal and conservative ends, as well as between inner-city and regional voters.
The disparity in those voting cohorts was clear as results poured in early on Saturday, with Queensland voters swinging towards the Coalition while Victorians moved against it. But Labor’s gains well fell short of what it expected — and of what nationwide polls indicated.
Michael Koziol is a political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.