A hung parliament has emerged as the most likely outcome of the federal elections, with voters in for a long wait before a final result is announced.
The Australian Electoral Commission said that counting would continue until midnight, as tally room results continued to reflect a neck-and-neck race between Labor and the Coalition.
Labor suffered a strong swing across the country, particularly in NSW due to frustration at the state government, and in Queensland where voters were angered by Juila Gillard’s deposition of former PM Kevin Rudd.
The Australian Greens made history, winning their first ever House of Representatives seat with Adam Brandt taking the seat of Melbourne. The seat was previously held by popular senior Labor MP Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner.
Rudd kept hold of his Queensland seat of Griffith, despite a four per cent swing against him. He acknowledged the families of two diggers who died in Afghanistan today before declaring his victory to ecstatic supporters.
Labor incumbent Maxine McKew saw a swing of 11.1 per cent against her in the key seat of Bennelong in Sydney and lost the electorate. She was ousted by Liberal candidate John Alexander – once a tennis champion.
She told SkyNews that Labor’s campaign had been ‘confused’, and suggested that a large number of informal votes indicated a “pox on both your houses” attitude from voters.
Bennelong was formerly held by Liberal Party ex-PM John Howard.
Hockey claimed one of the biggest swings in the country – some 10 per cent. He thanked supporters for re-electing him, assuring them that whether or not his party takes power, Labor would destroy itself from within.
Hockey would likely become treasurer in the event of a Coalition win.
Family First Senator Steve Fielding lost his seat in the Victorian Senate, and it looked likely he would be replaced by Greens candidate Richard Di Natale.
Polls shut at 6:00pm AEST in the eastern states and 8:00pm in WA in the closest election of Australia’s recent history, as voters and candidates settled in for a tense wait to find out who will run the country.
An estimated 14 million people turned out to vote across the nation.
Australia’s longest-serving prime minister Bob Hawke said he was comforted by the fact that some exit polls showed a small Labor lead.
Hawke told SkyNews he believes a result is some time away, and that any one of three possible results may be the final outcome; a Labor victory, a Coalition victory or a hung parliament.
Former Liberals leaders John Hewson and Peter Costello added their voices to the rising tide of analysts predicting a hung parliament.
The public was allowed into the tally room in Canberra on the dot of 6:00pm, joining scores of politicians, pundits and journalists who had already spent hours there awaiting the outcome.
Counting will continue well into the night, with 1.8 million absentee and postal votes also to be counted – 250,000 more than there were last election.
Election eve polls showed a shift to the Coalition, but betting markets indicated a different result, giving Julia Gillard a slight lead.
Despite opinion polls suggesting a last-minute shift to Tony Abbott, the ALP remained bookmakers’ favourite to win the federal election according to Centrebet.
Centrebet took a bet of $60,000 at $1.60 on the PM before shortening Labor’s odds to $1.39 in the afternoon, the AAP reported.
The Coalition drifted out to $2.90 from $2.38, with $2.55 for a hung parliament.
Sportingbet Australia showed a late rally for the Coalition, $2.70 in from $3.80, but Labor remained safe at $1.45.
Macquarie Bank market analyst David Halliday told SBS that the betting markets had never failed to correctly predict the outcome of an Australian election.