Sydney (AFP) – Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull Sunday declared victory for the ruling conservatives after the Labor opposition conceded defeat, but faced a tough time ahead after the narrow mandate in the closely fought election.

The declaration ended eight days of uncertainty about the new government’s identity. A tight race between the two major parties left neither of them with the 76 or more seats required for a parliamentary majority following polls on July 2, with vote counting still ongoing.

“We’ve won the election, that’s what we’ve done,” Turnbull told reporters in Sydney, adding that he received a call from Labor leader Bill Shorten congratulating him on his re-election as prime minister.

But he immediately faced questions about whether he would be able to govern successfully, with Labor increasing its lower house seats and a higher number of minor party and independent senators to contend with in the upper house.

Turnbull’s ruling Liberal/National coalition is currently expected to secure 74 seats, and potentially two more, in the 150-seat House of Representatives, according to national broadcaster ABC’s projections.

But the Australian leader has won the support of three independent MPs on budget matters and on votes of no confidence, paving the way for him to form a minority government if necessary.

Labor has won 66, and with five independents elected, the opposition does not have sufficient seats to govern in Canberra, according to the projections.

– ‘Vital that parliament works’ –

The need for Turnbull to court the support of those outside his party saw him stress that he valued every parliamentarian’s contribution, even though he had warned Australians not to vote for minor parties and independents during the election campaign.

“It is vital that this parliament works,” Turnbull said, adding that Australia faced numerous challenges including a rocky transition away from a dependence on mining-driven growth.

“Every member of the House and the Senate deserves respect because they have been elected by the Australian people.”

Shorten pledged earlier Sunday in his concession speech that his centre-left party wanted to work well with the government, amid concerns the close result and higher number of lawmakers not from the two major parties could cause gridlock.

Even so, Turnbull faces an uphill task to get the Senate to pass two bills about restoring a construction union watchdog. He had used the Senate’s blocking of the bills to trigger a double-dissolution election, but could now face an even more hostile upper house.

There are also question marks over whether his multi-billion dollar plan to cut corporate tax announced in the May budget would get support from the smaller parties and independents, who were elected on more populist agendas.

– Drawn-out count –

The two seats the coalition hopes to pick up are among five in the balance, with the electoral commission still completing the painstaking task of counting postal votes and others cast outside people’s normal electorates.

Both Turnbull and Shorten said they supported an inquiry into electronic voting, amid the protracted counting process.

“I have been an advocate of electronic voting for a long time… yes, this is something we must look at,” Turnbull said.

Shorten added earlier: “I will be writing to Mr Turnbull and saying, ‘really, we’re a grown-up democracy, it shouldn’t be taking eight days to find out who’s won and who’s lost’.”

Turnbull lost the government’s comfortable majority in the House of Representatives in last Saturday’s election after his campaign on “jobs and growth” and “innovation” failed to resonate equally across the vast island continent.

Australia’s politics has been turbulent in recent years, with a “revolving door” of prime ministers in charge. Four different leaders have served since 2013 as parties removed sitting prime ministers.

Turnbull became the nation’s fourth prime minister since 2013 when he rolled Liberal leader Tony Abbott in a party vote last September.

Staff ReporterGENERAL
Sydney (AFP) - Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull Sunday declared victory for the ruling conservatives after the Labor opposition conceded defeat, but faced a tough time ahead after the narrow mandate in the closely fought election. The declaration ended eight days of uncertainty about the new government's identity. A tight...