The teal independents are on track to win at least five seats from the Liberals, punishing the party’s moderate wing for not securing strong enough action on the climate crisis or introducing a federal integrity commission.
The treasurer and longstanding MP for the Victorian seat of Kooyong, Josh Frydenberg, was set to be the most high-profile loss to the independents backed by the Climate 200 group.
The teal wins will have implications for the makeup of the Liberal party after the election, with the number of self-styled moderates in the party room eroded.
The convenor of Climate 200, Simon Holmes à Court, said the results showed a significant proportion of Australians were “sick of nine years of failure” on climate policy.
“The people who called themselves moderates didn’t deliver,” he said on Saturday night.
The Liberal Senate leader, Simon Birmingham, said it was “a clear problem that we are losing seats that are heartland seats, that have defined the Liberal party for generations”.
During the election campaign, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, generally did not campaign in any of the seats where his MPs were facing challenges from teal candidates, reflecting the assessment that his brand would not assist them.
Morrison had implored voters not to “hand over the parliament to a gaggle of independents” which he said would be “a recipe for absolute chaos”.
Frydenberg’s independent challenger in Kooyong, Monique Ryan, was on track to secure about 54.5% of the vote after preferences.
Frydenberg said at 10pm on Saturday there were “still thousands of postal votes to count” and “while it’s mathematically possible that we win in Kooyong, it’s definitely difficult”.
The former ABC journalist Zoe Daniel claimed a teal victory in the Victorian seat of Goldstein with 54% of the vote after preferences.
Her win ends the political career of Tim Wilson, the assistant minister for industry, energy and emissions reduction.
Daniel thanked her supporters in the formerly safe Liberal seat, saying the achievement was “extraordinary”.
She noted the electorate was named after the internationally renowned suffragette Vida Goldstein, who ran for the Senate in the 1903 federal election – the first election in which women could be candidates.
“She was so independent that she couldn’t bring herself to run for either of the major parties,” Daniel said. “Vida was not elected. This seat is in her name and today I take her rightful place.”
Earlier, in an ABC interview, Wilson alleged that he had been targeted by “an unholy alliance [of] GetUp, Extinction Rebellion, the Labor party [and] the Greens all abandoning their traditional stance to back a former ABC journalist”.
The teal independents – named after the colours of their campaign materials – also made strong gains in Sydney seats. They campaigned strongly for more ambitious climate action, the introduction of a strong national integrity commission and equality for women.
In Wentworth, independent Allegra Spender defeated the Liberal MP and former Australian ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, garnering nearly 57% of the vote after preferences.
In North Sydney, teal Kylea Tink was set to take the seat from Trent Zimmerman with about 54% of the vote after preferences, although the incumbent was hoping postal votes could still save him. Labor’s high-profile candidate for North Sydney, Catherine Renshaw, also garnered strong support in the seat.
Tink claimed victory saying she would now be seeking her community’s support to “change the climate in Canberra”.
Tink said it was not just her victory but a win for the 1,000 volunteers who powered her campaign.
She promised to deliver “faster action on climate change, an integrity commission, an economy that is forward-focussed and action to address the systemic inequality that continues to plague our community”.
Zimmerman had not yet conceded defeat but admitted “the pathway to victory in North Sydney is a narrow one”.
Reflecting on the likely loss of several urban seats, Zimmerman said the Liberal party must ensure it represented “the aspirations of the great urban areas that represent a large portion of the economic activity of our nation”.
“There is a driving desire in the communities I represent for greater action on climate change, for greater action in areas like ensuring there are genuinely more opportunities for women in our communities,” the outgoing Liberal MP said.
Zimmerman said “we cannot ignore them, for if we do, winning government again will be impossible”.
Matt Kean, the NSW treasurer and a leading moderate, said the lesson of Saturday night was that “when the Liberal party goes too far to the right we lose in the centre”.
“The Liberal party is at its strongest when we represent the diversity in the community. Tonight we have had a very strong message from our heartland that we are not representing them.”
Another teal independent, Sophie Scamps, was likely to defeat Jason Falinski in Mackellar with about 53% of the two-candidate vote.
In the Western Australian seat of Curtin, independent candidate Kate Chaney has run a strong challenge against Liberal MP Celia Hammond. Early results had Chaney ahead with about 52.5% of the vote after preferences.
Holmes à Court said Climate 200 had raised about $12m for the campaigns and he had personally contributed 2% of that amount.
He praised the strength and enthusiasm of the local campaigns, saying they were “incredible campaigns like we’ve never seen before”. He said they had “thousands of volunteers”.
“The Kooyong campaign knocked on every knockable door in the electorate – 55,000 knockable doors. No one has ever done that before,” Holmes à Court told Guardian Australia.
He said Climate 200-commissioned polling of the target seats had shown voters’ main concern was climate change and their second or third-highest priority was integrity in government.
In the upper house, the Climate 200-backed independent candidate David Pocock appeared a strong chance of gaining one of the two Australian Capital Territory Senate seats.
Labor’s campaign spokesperson, Jason Clare, speaking on the Seven Network as the results were being tallied, said: “The teals are eating the Liberal party alive.”
Birmingham, a prominent moderate, argued the Liberal party should not shift too far to the right after the election.
“We need to heed the message because forming government in the future without winning those sorts of seats is a next to impossible task,” Birmingham told the ABC.
The independent MP Zali Steggall – another Climate 200-backed candidate – was re-elected in the seat of Warringah with more than 60% of the vote after preferences.
The Liberal party suffered a primary vote swing against it of 6% after its candidate, Katherine Deves, attracted criticism for her anti-trans activism.