Voters face hung parliament after Australian cliffhanger
The results of yesterday's national election may take days to count, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said as polls pointed to no party winning enough votes to form a majority government.
Ms Gillard (48) said she would maintain a stable government until the final election results were known. She also congratulated her opponent, Liberal-National Party leader Tony Abbott, saying he was a "formidable" opponent.
"We've continued to fight for Australian jobs," Ms Gillard said, picking up a theme used throughout her campaign. "We have always been an optimistic party. We have always maintained that the best days for this country are in front of us and not behind."
The closeness of the race raises the possibility that no party will win a majority of the vote, an outcome not seen in Australia for 70 years.
A so-called hung parliament would make it harder for either party to push through legislation, such as Labor's proposed 30 per cent tax on iron ore and coal profits.
Without a majority in the 150-seat House of Representatives, Ms Gillard (48) and Mr Abbott (52) would have to build alliances with independents and Greens to enact laws.
A key issue for Ms Gillard, a former lawyer and student activist, was how voters responded to her role in ousting Kevin Rudd as prime minister in June after a slump in opinion polls.
Her support dwindled during the five-week campaign over her disposal of Mr Rudd, a move she justified by saying the government "lost its way".
Labour's Maxine McKew, who lost the Sydney seat of Bennelong three years after taking it from then prime minister John Howard, criticised the party's national campaign and suggested Mr Rudd's removal had "significant ramifications" for the result.
The Australian Greens won their first lower house seat in a general election, taking the district of Melbourne from Labour after Ms Gillard delayed plans to set up a market mechanism to put a price on carbon until after 2012.
"The government has been punished for its denial on climate change," the Green Party's Adam Bandt said.