The leader of the Australian Labor Party Bill Shorten waves to party faithful as he arrives to speak about the success of the Labor Party in the Australian Federal Election in Melbourne on July 2, 2016. / AFP / Paul Crock
The leader of the Australian Labor Party Bill Shorten waves to party faithful as he arrives to speak about the success of the Labor Party in the Australian Federal Election in Melbourne on July 2, 2016. / AFP / Paul Crock

SYDNEY: Australia’s election was on a knife-edge yesterday with the ruling conservatives struggling to win enough seats to form majority government, raising the prospect of a hung parliament. Seventy-six seats are needed to rule outright in the 150-seat House of Representatives, but there was a swing against Malcolm Turnbull’s Liberal/National coalition results showed as vote counting went deep into the night. National broadcaster ABC, which is known for calling elections results, said an outcome was unlikely Saturday.

“I’m prepared to make a prediction. We won’t know who has won tonight,” the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s respected election analyst Antony Green said, with some four million postal votes still being sifted through. He forecast Bill Shorten’s Labor opposition would not hold more than 70 seats and the coalition could fall short of a majority by one seat, with 75, despite being backed by the nation’s media.

More than four hours after most polling booths closed, the Australian Electoral Commission had Turnbull’s party on 71 seats to 68 for Labor with crossbenchers – politicians who are independent or from minor parties – winning five. It could mean a parliament where no side commands a lower house majority, as voters fed up with traditional politicians look for alternatives, meaning crossbenchers will play an important role in forming government.

“First term governments always, always, have a swing against them. We know that,” Treasurer Scott Morrison said, putting a brave face on the results. Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said Turnbull’s leadership was in peril. “I think the real question is for Malcolm Turnbull – can he remain leader with the loss of so many seats?” she told the Nine Network. The government went into the election with a large majority of seats.

The vote culminated a marathon race where economic management became a key issue in the wake of the Brexit verdict. Multi-millionaire former banker Turnbull, 61, was looking to bolster his power after ousting fellow Liberal Tony Abbott in a party coup last September and he was upbeat when casting his vote at a school near his Sydney harborside mansion. “Win the election,” a boy yelled out as he stuffed his voting form in the ballot box, to which Turnbull replied: “Thank you, we are working on it.”

Unexpected Headwinds
Ex-union chief Shorten, 49, has been gunning to return Labor to office after it was thumped by the conservatives at the last election in 2013. “What will decide this election is what is in the best interests for working and middle class Australia,” he said before polling closed in a last-ditch bid to rally undecided voters to his platform of better health, jobs and education. Turnbull has campaigned on tough asylum-seeker policies, a plan to hold a plebiscite on gay marriage, and his economic credentials as the country transitions from a mining investment boom and focuses on job creation and diversifying the economy.

He has also channelled the instability sparked by Britain’s shock vote to leave the European Union, warning Australia must “have the plan that meets the nature of our times, a time of opportunity and of challenge”. According to the official #ausvotes Twitter feed, the most tweeted issues during the campaign have been healthcare, the economy, education and housing affordability and voters in Sydney said they expected a tight contest. “There’s been a lot of disunity in the last couple of years (in Australia),” voter Sarah Lander told AFP, referring to the country’s revolving door of prime ministers. “With what’s going on in the world, with the UK (Brexit) and terrorism, why wouldn’t you want to stick with what you know?”

Turnbull called an election early because crossbenchers hold the balance of power in the upper house Senate. They have failed to pass deadlocked legislation to overhaul unions, which provided the trigger for a double dissolution of parliament, where all seats in the upper and lower houses are contested. – AFP