Australia faces the prospect of having a parliament in which neither of the major parties will have enough seats to form a workable government.
The outcome of Saturday’s federal election has come down to eight seats too close to call.
After a swag of pre-poll votes were added to running totals in 150 lower house seats in the early hours of Sunday morning, the Coalition had 70 seats to Labor’s 67. The Greens and the Nick Xenophon Team have one apiece, other parties have three. Eight seats remain in doubt.
The fate of the Turnbull government rests with the pre-poll and postal vote count over the next week.
The best the Turnbull government can hope for at this stage is 74 seats, two short of an absolute majority.
It would need the support of two independents to govern.
Labor would probably need all four independents if, as it pledged during the election campaign, it refused to enter into any arrangement with the Greens.
Another election also cannot be ruled out.
With 10 million two-party preferred votes counted, the coalition has won 50.11 per cent to Labor’s 49.89.
That’s a swing of 3.4 per cent against the coalition on the 2013 election.
Early on Sunday morning, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told the party faithful he expected the coalition could form a majority government.
“We are the only parties that have the ability or the possibility of doing that,” Mr Turnbull said.
“In the meantime, I want to say to all Australians those that voted for us, those that voted for other parties or candidates, this is a time when we must come together, we must stick together.”
However, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was not giving up on forming government, telling his supporters Mr Turnbull had “failed miserably”.
“Whatever happens next week, Mr Turnbull will never be able to claim that the people of Australia have adopted his ideological agenda,” he said in Melbourne.
“He will never again be able to promise the stability which he has completely failed to deliver tonight.”
Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said Mr Turnbull’s leadership was in peril.
“I think the real question tonight is for Malcolm Turnbull – can he remain leader with the loss of so many seats?” she told the Nine Network.
Bill Shorten had led a “great campaign”, she said.
Liberal MP Sarah Henderson, who is facing a close election in the Victorian seat of Corangamite, said Mr Turnbull “will be a great second-term Prime Minister”.
“He has run a positive campaign,” she said.
Labor’s “outrageous” claims about Medicare caused the most damage to the government, she said.