“We have 27.5 per cent of the national vote counted. At the moment, the Labor Party can’t reach majority government. The Coalition can,” he said.
Earlier, Labor frontbencher Penny Wong said Western Australia may clinch the election for her party following a collapse of its vote in Queensland.
Senator Wong told the ABC that while early indications were not promising, she was keen to see results from pre-poll voting and Western Australia.
She said Queensland had been “tough … for a fair while” for federal Labor. But on a visit to Western Australia last week, voters expressed a wish that “‘we don’t want [the election result] to be over before it gets to us.’ That’s probably the case”.
The national result so far is markedly different from that predicted by successive opinion polls, and is sure to trigger debate about whether the polls can be trusted.
At about 9pm, the Coalition’s nationwide primary vote sat at 41.7 per cent, Labor was on 33.3 per cent and the Greens had secured 10.8 per cent. It appeared the Coalition had won 74 lower house seats, Labor was on 66 and six were set to go to the Greens and independents.
Seventy-six seats are needed to win an upper house majority. If the Coalition falls short, it will be forced to negotiate a minority government with crossbench MPs – many of them staunch advocates for climate action.
Earlier in the day, nationwide exit polls suggested Labor was on track for election victory, a result made more likely after Tony Abbott was ousted from the seat of Warringah, however in a surprise result for the Coalition, Peter Dutton appears set to retain the Queensland seat of Dickson.
Support for the Home Affairs Minister comes despite a vigorous campaign by grassroots group GetUp to have him ousted.
At 10pm Mr Dutton led Labor candidate Ali France 53-47 on a two party-preferred basis in the north Brisbane electorate.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott lost his blue-ribbon Sydney seat of Warringah in a thumping defeat by independent candidate Zali Steggall. At 10pm the Australian Electoral Commission projected that Ms Steggall would win 59-41 on a two-party preferred basis.
Ahead of the election, the Coalition notionally had 73 seats and Labor had 72, while independents held the other six. The Coalition needs an overall gain of three seats to win government and Labor needs a net gain of four.
An Ipsos poll published on Friday suggested the Morrison government trailed the Opposition 49 to 51 per cent on a two-party basis up from 48-52 two weeks ago. The Coalition’s primary vote was up three points to 39 per cent while Labor’s remained stable at 33 per cent.
Labor leader Bill Shorten’s personal approval ratings improved over the last two weeks of the campaign, however the Ipsos poll showed he still lagged behind Prime Minister Scott Morrison as preferred leader.
Betting odds tightened in the closing days of the election campaign, but bookmakers still backed a Labor win.
A record 4.76 million people cast an early pre-poll vote at this election, including around 700,000 votes cast on Friday alone. The Australian Electoral Commission this week warned the high number of early votes meant counting may be delayed and a clear winner may not be known on Saturday night.
The tight showdown and high number of marginal seats means preference flows will likely be critical to the result. The Liberal Party will exchange preferences with Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party and the Nationals have struck preference deals with Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.
Labor has not entered into formal preference deals, but a vast proportion of Greens votes flow to Labor as preferences.
Nicole Hasham is environment and energy correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.