Turnbull has clear path to form a government

Surprise advance for Coalition in vote-count update released late last night. Thorny complications remain. With special feature audio.

Latest projections (76 seats needed for majority)

  • Coalition 74 - 76
  • Labor 70 - 72
  • Independents/minor parties: 5 (right-leaning: 3, left-leaning: 2)

81.7% of votes counted as of 11.55pm Wednesday night NZT.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is now within striking distance of forming a new government, possibly with an absolute majority.

A vote-count update release late last night saw unexpectedly strong results for the Liberal-National Coalition overall and weakness for Labor, which fell behind in the key Queensland seat of Flynn — previously seen as a likely gain from the Liberals.

As has been the case since Saturday, the complex system of redistributed preference votes makes it fiendishly tricky to predict the outcome in close seats.

But after the latest count, a broad consensus has emerged between pundits and party strategists on both sides, that the Coalition is likely to win  between 74 and 76 seats in the House of Representatives (76 being the bare minimum needed to govern alone in the 150-seat body; the Coalition went into the election with 90).

Labor is expected to win between 68 and 70 seats, with two left-leaning MPs in its orbit (one Green, one independent).

If the Coalition does get stuck on 74, it will likely be able to form a minority government by turning to one of three right-leaning MPs for support: the populist Bob Katter, leader and sole MP for Katter's Australia Party, one MP from Nick Xenophon Team (lead by the combative senator who lends the party his name), and rural MP Cathy McGowan.

Mr Turnbull met with Nick Xenophon yesterday and is expected to hold talks with Bob Katter today and Ms McGowan by the end of the week.

Mr Xenophon has more-or-less palatable demands for reform around IPOs and added protection for consumers when a company goes bust (the Dick Smith collapse being one of his main hobby horses). Mr Katter as a Winston Peters-esque protectionist wishlist around his general campaign theme that "Australia is not for sale". The independent Ms McGowan represents a rural electorate. She says she parses all policy in terms of whether it's good for regional Australia. Better rural broadband is one her themes.

But although it's now all but assured he will be able to form a government, its effectiveness and durability is still an open question.

A key problem is the Senate.

Going into the election, the Coalition held just 33 of the 76 seats in the upper house, which has the power to veto or amend most legislation. It was trouble with getting bills through the Senate that triggered the early ballot.

With the vote count still underway (it's even more complicated than the House, with voters given a choice of two different systems), a possible Senate lineup is:

  • Coalition: 25 - 28*
  • Labor: 23 - 25
  • Independents: 13
  • Greens: 6
  • Team Nick Xenophon: 2 - 3
  • One Nation: 1
  • Lambie Network: 1

* The Liberals stand to gain two too-close-call senate seats from Labour, and could also take one from TNX.

Bill by bill trench warfare seems assured. Some of the newcomers, including Pauline Hanson (previously in the House) and talkback host Derryn Hinch are on the right, but won't be easy to manage.

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