The federal election result is on a knife edge, with the outcome between a majority Turnbull government and a hung parliament.
Malcolm Turnbull has been delivered a major rebuff and left potentially embattled, with bitter recriminations breaking out in conservative ranks. Even if the Coalition ends with a majority, Turnbull will have an uphill struggle to manage a party that includes many who are his enemies.
There were immediate calls for a review of the superannuation policy that the government took to the election, which cut back concessions for high income earners and deeply angered the Liberals' base.
Liberal ministers blamed Labor’s Medicare scare campaign for turning voters against the Coalition.
Late in the night the swing against the government was 3.6%. The election has seen a high vote for small parties.
Turnbull waited until after midnight to address his supporters, declaring: “I can report that based on the advice I have from the party officials, we can have every confidence that we will form a Coalition majority government in the next Parliament”. In his speech, he did not accept any blame for the bad result or suggest he would make any changes as a result.
Treasurer Scott Morrison said the Coalition was “on the cusp” of being able to claim the 76 seats needed to form majority government.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who spoke to supporters around 11.30pm, said the outcome might not be known for days but whatever happened one thing was sure: “the Labor party is back”. He said the Liberals had “lost their mandate”.
Labor’s Senate leader, Penny Wong, said there was “too much on the table to call it tonight”.
The ABC said that with more than 70% of votes counted, the Coalition was on track to win 72 seats, and Labor set to claim 66, with five crossbenchers including one Green, and seven seats in doubt.
An unanticipated big swing in Tasmania has cost the Liberals Bass, Braddon and Lyons. Labor has won Eden-Monaro (NSW), Macarthur (NSW), and the notional Liberal seat of Burt in Western Australia.
In Queensland, Assistant Minister for Innovation, Wyatt Roy appears to have lost Longman and the Liberals may lose Herbert. The Sydney seat of Lindsay is likely to fall, as is Macquarie. In the Northern Territory, Solomon is set to fall.
Nick Xenophon’s Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) candidate Rebekha Sharkie has taken Mayo from former minister Jamie Briggs, who had to quit the frontbench after an incident in a Hong Kong bar. Briggs tweeted “After a tough fight tonight hasn’t been our night”.
The Liberals could win the Victorian Labor seat of Chisholm. The Labor-Green contest in Batman is neck and neck.
Despite Turnbull calling the double dissolution to clear out small players in the Senate, the new Senate will contain a plethora of micro players. They will include three South Australian senators from NXT. Pauline Hanson has been elected to a Senate seat in Queensland. Broadcaster Derryn Hinch has claimed a Victorian Senate seat. Independent Jacqui Lambie has been returned in Tasmania.
In his speech Turnbull took on criticism, already being aired, that he should not have called a double dissolution, saying this had not been a political tactic but had been driven by the “need to restore the rule of law to the construction industry”.
Even if Turnbull wins majority government he may not have the numbers to get the industrial relations bills, which were the trigger for the double dissolution, through a joint sitting.
The backlash in conservative ranks erupted immediately.
Senator Cory Bernardi said in a tweet to Liberal pollster Mark Textor “@TextorMark Hey Tex, I’m thinking that Conservatives actually do matter”.
Broadcaster Alan Jones clashed with one of Turnbull’s numbers men, senator James McGrath on the Network Seven panel. “There were a lot of bed-wetters in the Liberal party and you seemed to be the captain of the bed-wetters,” Jones said. McGrath hit back, saying Jones was “not a friend” of the Coalition.
Tony Abbott’s former chief of staff Peta Credlin and Attorney-General George Brandis had a spat on the Sky panel over the government’s superannuation changes. Credlin said the changes would not go through the Coalition party room in their present form; Brandis retorted she was not in the party room.
Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz said there had been strident criticism in emails to his office of the superannuation changes. “I for one will be advocating we reconsider aspects of it.”
Victorian Liberal president Michael Kroger said the party’s base was “furious” with the superannuation policy. “I certainly hope the party room would look at this issue.”
Conservative commentator Andrew Bolt called for Turnbull to quit. “You have been a disaster. You betrayed Tony Abbott and then led the party to humiliation, stripped of both values and honour. Resign.”
Treasurer Morrison, asked if Tony Abbott could have won the election replied “highly unlikely”.
Roy and Peter Hendy, member for Eden-Monaro, were both heavily involved in the Turnbull coup.
Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop said “undoubtedly” the Medicare scare campaign had been an important factor in the result. She said a number of people on election day had raised Medicare with her at polling booths.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said Labor’s Medicare’s scare was more effective than the government had thought during the campaign. “No doubt the absolute lie Labor was running on Medicare was effective.”
Turnbull lashed out over the Medicare scare, saying “the Labor Party ran some of the most systematic, well-funded lies ever peddled in Australia”.
He said that “no doubt” the police would investigate last minute text messages to voters that said they came from Medicare.
Abetz said the “three amigos” in Bass, Braddon and Lyons had been swamped by the Medicare campaign.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has held New England from independent challenger Tony Windsor. Independent Cathy McGowan has retained Indi. The Nationals have taken Murray from the Liberals, and headed off a challenge in Cowper from independent Rob Oakeshott.
The poll has seen the first Indigenous woman elected to the House of Representatives – Linda Burney in the NSW seat of Barton.
The pre-poll count continued to 2 am. There will be no more counting until Tuesday.
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra