With so many gains for the Coalition and so few for Labor, Mr Shorten’s hopes of becoming Prime Minister receded as election night went on.
The Coalition, which has trailed Labor in the polls throughout its turbulent time in government, went in to the campaign with 74 seats and added to that tally across Queensland, where it defeated Labor in Longman and Herbert. The Coalition also wrested the Tasmanian seat of Braddon from Labor and appeared likely to claim the neighbouring electorate of Bass as well.
The Coalition and Labor teams were anxiously waiting on results from Western Australia to be sure of the outcome. The Coalition’s gains left Labor clutching to the hope of negotiating with crossbench MPs to hold government in a hung Parliament.
With the electorate enduring more than a decade of unprecedented parliamentary bloodletting – Australia has had seven Prime Ministers in 11 years – many neutral observers were hoping for a period of political stability.
However, the result shows the nation is divided along geographic and ideological lines with Mr Abbott declaring a political “realignment” with Labor making gains in progressive wealthy seats and the Coalition doing better in working class areas. A group of key independents could still hold the key to power.
Mr Abbott said the Coalition would be able to retain government even though he conceded he would lose his seat of Warringah, a safe Liberal electorate for years that came under attack from independent candidate Zali Steggall and her campaign for more action on climate change.
“The good news is that there is every chance the Liberal National Coalition has won this election,” Mr Abbott said.
“This is a really extraordinary result, it is a stupendous result, it is a great result for Scott Morrison and the rest of the Liberal team, and Scott Morrison will quite rightly enter the Liberal pantheon forever.”
In western Sydney, the electorate of Lindsay fell to the Liberals while the neighbouring electorate of Macquarie appeared to be shifting in the same way. In eastern Sydney, the Liberal Party was confident of regaining the blue-ribbon seat of Wentworth with Liberal candidate Dave Sharma ahead of independent MP Kerryn Phelps, who gained the seat at a byelection last year.
The outcomes give the Coalition a narrow majority in the House of Representatives unless it suffers the loss of other seats.
Labor gained the seat of Gilmore on the NSW South Coast and the two Victorian seats of Chisholm and Dunkley.
Early in the night, Mr Shorten appeared to be on track to become Australia’s 31st prime minister after an exit poll predicted a swing to Labor, with voters naming health and climate change as key factors in their decisions.
While Labor Party members were buoyant before the early count, Mr Morrison expressed caution about his chances, saying he made “no assumptions” about holding on to power.
While the Liberal Party appeared likely to regain Wentworth, independent MPs made gains elsewhere with Victorian independent Helen Haines on track to win Indi and succeed former independent MP Cathy McGowan.
Combined with the victory for Ms Steggall, the election appears to leave Parliament with a crossbench that includes Greens MP Adam Bandt, Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie, Queenslander Bob Katter, South Australian Rebekha Sharkie as well as Ms Steggall and Dr Haines.
Mr Wilkie has ruled out doing any deal with a minority government while Mr Katter has backed the Coalition in the past. Others have named climate change policy as a factor in their decisions on whether to support a minority government on votes of confidence and supply.
The government’s 74 seats in the House of Representatives was down from the 76 it won at the last election due to the departure of former Liberal MP Julia Banks to the crossbench and the arrival of independent MP Kerryn Phelps in Wentworth. Labor started with 69 seats from the last Parliament.
Labor described its election effort as its largest “field campaign” in history, putting more than 25,000 volunteers into the field to knock on more than one million doors. Labor claimed its supporters made more than one million phone calls to urge Australians to back their party.
Activist group GetUp said it had mobilised more than 9000 volunteers who had worked on the ground, with a wider group of helpers making more than 700,000 phone calls during the campaign.
The ACTU had about 5000 volunteers working during the campaign.
Mr Shorten began the final day of the campaign by urging Australians to change the government because Labor would act on climate change, spend more on health, restore stability after the leadership division within the Liberal Party and improve fairness by scaling back tax concessions for the wealthy.
He visited Melbourne electorates after an early morning run wearing a t-shirt that asked people to vote for “Chloe Shorten’s husband” – an acknowledgement of his wife’s importance to his campaign.
Mr Morrison campaigned at a more hectic pace by flying to Tasmania on Saturday morning to woo voters in the marginal seat of Bass before heading to Sydney for the remainder of the day.
The Coalition adopted the same approach the previous day with a relentless tour through Queensland marginal seats.
The election campaign ended on a subdued note after the death of former prime minister Bob Hawke on Thursday, an event that forced a change of tactics and tone from Labor in memory of its political hero.
The memories of Mr Hawke’s time in power, recounted in the outpouring of grief over his passing, gave Labor a moment to remember its record on economic reform and counter the Coalition claims that it was not fit to manage the economy.
Labor volunteers said Mr Hawke’s death had motivated them to campaign harder, although the event also prevented Mr Shorten campaigning in Brisbane electorates such as Forde on Friday, as he had intended.
Mr Shorten acknowledged that he felt a greater responsibility to win because Mr Hawke wanted him to secure the victory.
“I already feel a responsibility to millions of people to win. But sure, I want to do it for Bob, as well,” Mr Shorten said on Thursday. “I don’t want to let his memory down.”
David Crowe is Chief Political Correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.