Australian election: what to expect as counting resumes

The situation as it stands; what's next.

Counting resumes in the Australian election today.

Only 78.8% of ballots were counted on Saturday; since then it has eked up to 79.5%.

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) will now begin to tally millions of postal and special votes.

Pack a lunch
In five electorates, the gap between the first and second-placed candidates is less than 0.5%. If margins remain that tight in those races, and no party has a clear majority overall, challenges and vote-by-vote recounts in those five seats are inevitable n the days and weeks ahead.

Australia will be living in limbo land for some time to come.

What is the situation is as things stand?
No one knows. 

I’m not being flip.

The complex system of preferential vote redistribution, plus neck-and-contests in several seats, means literally every media outlet and pundit has a different working total.

The AEC has yet to declare a single seat (76 are needed for a majority in the 150-seat House of Representatives or lower house).

But it does note that the Liberal-National Coalition leads in 67 seats (three of which it deems “close”), and Labor in 71 (two of which are close).

Minor parties and independents lead in six seats; six have yet to be determined.

The only thing everybody can agree with is that neither the Coalition nor Labour will make it to the magic 76 mark.

ABC notes that if the AEC's “leading candidate” formula were applied to the six yet-to-be-determined seats, the tally today (with under 80% of votes counted), would look like this:

  • Coalition: 72
  • Labor: 72
  • Independents: 2 (one left-leaning, one right-leaning)
  • Katter's Australian Party: 1 (right-leaning)
  • Nick Xenophon Team: 2 (right-leaning)
  • Greens: 1 (left)

Nick Xenophon Team is at risk of losing a razor-thin lead in one of its seats to a Liberal candidate, which would put the Coalition on 73 – so as the largest party, it would have first dibs on forming a minority government.

If it remains all tied up on 72, then the Coalition should be able to squeak to 76 if it horse-trades to get the four right-leaning minor party and independent MPs on board.  Bob Katter (who makes Winston Peters seem mild-mannered) and the controversy-loving Nick Xenophon (who sits in the Senate) can be expected to drive a hard bargain. Mr Xenophon's many targets include Anchorage Capital, whom he sees as responsible for Dick Smith's collapse. The venture capital outfit has good reason to be nervous.

There have only ever been two minority-led governments in Australia’s history, though the last one was quite recent: 2010 as the Julia Gillard-led Labour Party won just 72 seats but was able to lean on one Green and three independent MPs to reach the bare minimum 76 for confidence and supply.

The arrangement proved unstable and neither Ms Gillard nor her government lasted long.

Coalition leader Malcolm Turnbull, who went into the snap election with 90 seats, is already being dogged by rumours of a spill.

The Senate: a big mess
The House is only half the story.

There’s also the Senate or upper house, which has the power to veto or amend most legislation.

It was the Coalition’s failure to get legislation through the Senate (where it had just 33 of 76 seats) that lead Malcolm Turnbull to call the double-dissolution election.

As things stand, it looks as if the Coalition will go backward.

Again, the complex voting system makes projections tricky but the Electoral Commission’s latest “leading candidate” stats indicate a situation of inevitable gridlock, with bill-by-bill negotiations with independents and minor parties required to get any legislation through:

  • Coalition: 25
  • Labor: 25
  • Independents: 13
  • One Nation: 1
  • Lambie Network: 1
  • Team Nick Xenophon: 3
  • Greens: 6

While Labour and the Greens could also slip back, the minor parties and independents will (before the election) be hard for the Coalition to keep line – assuming it can form a government.

Several of the newcomers are on the right but notably difficult if not impossible to control.

They include:

  • One Nation leader Pauline Hanson (formerly an MP in the lower house) will return to politics by taking a senate seat in Queensland. She could be joined by a second One Nation senator, depending on the final tally.
  • Talkback host Derryn Hinch, who leads the new Justice Party. Although reliably conservative, it is not in Hinch's DNA to follow any party's voting orders.

Then there are the likes of anti-burqa campaigner Jacquie Lambie and former rugby league star Glenn Lazarus.

The pair walked out of a dinner meeting with Mr Turnbull shortly before the election was called.

Mr Lazarus cited unsubstantive policy discussion and “stick insect like” portions that required a top up at McDonald's on the way home.

Mr Turnbull was probably glad to see Mr Lazarus leg it to Maccas. Now, in the days and weeks ahead, he’ll have to steel himself to make nice to the rambunctious independent – and many other MPs and senators. [UPDATE: Mr Lazarus has conceded his Queensland senate seat without waiting for the final tally. His pain could be Hanson's gain.]

For however many months the new government manages to stumble along, there will be stalemate and deadlock for most legislation, with maybe a few bills snuck through after cringing deals with extremists.

Suddenly, MMP doesn't look so bad.

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  • Labor: 25
  • Coalition: 25
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