Australians vote in knife-edge election

Australians vote in knife-edge election

Australians vote in knife-edge election

Australia appeared to be heading for a hung parliament as half the votes counted in a national poll today showed a neck-and-neck contest between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's conservative coalition and Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten.

More than 10 million people cast ballots, on top of four million who voted early to decide the fate of over 1,600 candidates, including five of Indian-origin, contesting from over 55 political parities.

In Sydney, 61-year-old Turnbull voted along with his wife Lucy at the Double Bay Public School in his seat of Wentworth.

The polls will elect all 226 members including 150 members for the lower house of the 45th parliament after an eight-week official campaign period following the double dissolution announced by Prime Minister Turnbull in April.

In the 150-seat House of Representatives, Labor currently holds 55 seats, the coalition 90 and five seats are held by minor parties or independents.

The Coalition has faced a swing against it nationally of 3.6 per cent, with seats set to fall in New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania.

With more than 70 per cent of the vote counted, the Coalition was on track to win 73 seats, while Labor was set to claim 66. Shorten told party faithful at a function in Victoria that the close result was a vindication of Labor's policies.

"There is one thing for sure - the Labor Party is back," he said.

"Three years after the Liberals came to power in a landslide they have lost their mandate. And Mr Turnbull's economic program, such as it was, has been rejected by the people of Australia, whatever happens next week," he said.

Shorten is vying to become the country's fifth premier in three years. Labor was decimated at the 2013 election, when Tony Abbott led the party.

Meanwhile Turnbull said he was confident of forming the government again. Pre-poll and postal votes will now be crucial to determining the final result.

If the Coalition finishes with less than 76 votes, it would need to negotiate with independents and minor parties to stay in power.

It would likely negotiate with Nick Xenophon's new MP Rebecca Sharkie, Victorian independent Cathy McGowan and Queenslander Bob Katter to secure its position.

The main contest is between Turnbull and his conservative coalition against a Labor opposition led by Shorten.

Early results from east coast and south Australian polling booths indicate a neck-and-neck race between the two major parties.

The Australian Electoral Commission reported a 3 per cent swing to the Labor Party with around 20 per cent of the vote counted. It projected 63 seats to the coalition and 62 to Labor.

Minor party candidates are also taking seats and a hung parliament is possible, media reports said.

Shorten's claims that the government intended to dismantle Australia's public health system, Medicare, was widely being credited with creating a late swing to Labor.

He said he was confident Labor could win.

"Labor is very competitive," he said, adding "I know that some of the conservative political papers have run their drum beat and whatever happens, the Liberals will win. The fact of the matter is that Labor's agenda has been speaking to the daily lives and experiences of Australians."

Turnbull, who called an early election partly to establish a new mandate for his government after ousting the unpopular Tony Abbott as conservative leader 10 months ago, repeated his call for voters to choose the Coalition and avoid a hung parliament.

"As I said there's never been a more exciting time to vote for a stable majority Coalition government, an economic plan that secures our future," he said.

A Newspoll published in The Australian showed Turnbull's Liberal/National coalition 50.5 to 49.5 per cent in front on a two-party basis.

Meanwhile, four men were reportedly arrested overnight and later released for allegedly damaging polling booths in St Kilda area in Melbourne.

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