Politics

Australia’s marathon election reaches the finish line, but refuses to finish

Australia wakes to discover it can’t make its mind up. Elle Hunt recaps the action from Sydney

It’s the campaign that never ends, it just goes on and on, my friends…

After an eight-week campaign and a neck-and-neck contest in which not very much happened, the Australian election was expected to be a close-run thing, with polls taken the night before showing Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition ahead by 50.5% to Labor’s 49.5%.

Australia, this morning. Photo: iStock

Australia, this morning. Photo: iStock

But no one expected it to be this close – not really.

As election night ticked over to the morning, it still wasn’t clear who would be prime minister.

A string of Coalition MPs were defeated after a nationwide swing against the government, while Labor made gains – but, either way, it was too close to call.

Turnbull’s party seemed rattled by the tight contest, with senior figures, including the PM himself, blaming Labor’s scare campaign over their plans for the public healthcare scheme (a “monstrous lie”, said the foreign minister, Julie Bishop) for turning the tide against them.

But questions over whether the Coalition might have fared better under Tony Abbott – Turnbull’s onion-eating predecessor, from whom he wrested leadership last year – seemed enough to turn the right-wing on itself.

A conservative radio host told one of Turnbull’s key supporters that he had been “chief bedwetter” in the leadership spill. Abbott’s former chief of staff bickered with the current attorney-general while live on air on a panel on Sky News. Former PM John Howard “grieved” the night’s result.

And in what was described as an “epic cry-wank of fury”, Andrew Bolt, a right-wing commentator, accused Turnbull of turning “everything to ruin” and calling for him to resign.

It’s true that Turnbull won’t be in a comfortable position even if the Coalition does end up forming a majority government.

He was nowhere to be seen on election night until after midnight, when he eventually turned up to his party’s event. “I’m sure that as the results are refined and come in over the next few days with all of the counting, we will be able to form that majority government,” he said. “But, let me say this, let me say this without any fear of contradiction. The Labor party has no capacity in this parliament to form a stable majority government. That is a fact.”

With counting of the postal votes upon which Turnbull’s fate depends resuming on Tuesday, however, the fact is it will be a few days yet before we get a definitive result.

The Spinoff Longform Fund is dedicated to facilitating investigative journalism. Our focus is on supporting in-depth reporting on important New Zealand stories. Your donation will help us sustain this most resource-intensive form of journalism, ensuring that the most complex and important stories still get told.