Labor leads race for minority government

The morning after a dreadful night before, Labor looks better placed than the coalition to form a minority government in what could be Australia's first hung parliament in 70 years.

Neither side looks like getting the 76 seats it needs to form government in its own right, but Labor might get closer.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard says she has had initial talks with independent MPs and the Australian Greens following the inconclusive election result.

Re-elected independents Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Bob Katter all received a phone call, as did a possible fourth independent Andrew Wilkie.

The prime minister met likely Greens MP Adam Bandt and his party leader Bob Brown personally in Melbourne on Sunday.

"It's my intention to negotiate in good faith an effective agreement to form government," Ms Gillard told reporters in Melbourne.

ALP national secretary Karl Bitar says Labor "potentially" can win 75 seats "but only if all the cards fall the right way".

When counting closed at 4.00am NZT the Australian Electoral Commission had Labor and coalition each winning 71 seats with three independents and an Australia Green.

Four other seats are too close to call.

But it's a lot more complex and intriguing than that.

The AEC lists only two seats as doubtful - Hasluck in Western Australia and Boothby in South Australia.

But it's likely Corangamite (Victoria), Brisbane (Queensland), Lindsay (NSW) and Denison (Tasmania) are still in play as well.

Right now, according to an AAP analysis of the counting, both Labor and the coalition have 70 seats each.

Of the six seats in doubt, Labor leads in three, the coalition in two and an independent in one.

Because of record pre-poll and postal votes the result in each of the seats and, as a result, the make-up of the new parliament won't be known until late next week.

Here's how the doubtfuls shape up the day following the election:

BOOTHBY: Late counting has put Labor's Annabel Digance in front of sitting Liberal MP Andrew Southcott by 710 votes with 77 per cent of the vote counted. Postal and pre-poll votes, generally, tend to favour sitting MPs which is what the coalition will be hoping for here during the next week.

BRISBANE: Sitting Labor MP Arch Bevis is trailing former Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro by 828 votes with 70 per cent of the vote counted. That leaves a lot of pre-poll and postals to be counted. Labor describes the contest as "neck and neck", relying on its superior postal vote processes to get Bevis across the line despite a swing against the government of 5.3 per cent.

CORANGAMITE: Sitting Labor MP Darren Cheeseman leads the Liberals' Sarah Henderson by 1189 votes with 80 per cent of the vote counted. Labor is "quietly confident" its postal vote campaign will get Cheeseman home despite a swing against Labour of just under 1 per cent.

DENISON: Independent Andrew Wilkie rates himself a better than 50-50 chance of taking the seat from Labor after picking up nearly 22 per cent of the primary vote. The AEC hasn't been able to distribute preferences to support that result, but the ABC's election analyst Antony Green has Wilkie winning the seat comfortably. Much depends on the flow of preferences from the Greens to Wilkie and from the Liberals to Wilkie.

HASLUCK: Liberal Ken Wyatt, potentially the first indigenous MP to be elected to the lower house, leads sitting Labor MP Sharryn Jackson by 369 votes with three-quarters of the vote counted. It might not be enough to hold off a likely surge of Labor postal and pre-poll votes. Jackson has done well to limit the swing against Labour of 1.1 per cent.

LINDSAY: Labor also is "quietly confident" of a win for sitting MP David Bradbury in this western Sydney seat, despite a swing of almost 6 per cent against it. Bradbury leads Liberal Fiona Scott by 1012 votes with 83 per cent of the vote counted. Labor reckons its superior postal vote campaign will help Bradbury maintain that lead to the final vote.

The most likely outcome, at this stage, is that Labor will win Corangamite, Lindsay and possibly Hasluck to give it 73 seats.

The coalition might hold Boothby just, to give it 71 seats.

Wilkie would be the fourth independent MP in the lower house, leaving Brisbane too close to call.

The best the coalition can reasonably expect is 72 seats in the new parliament which means it needs all four independents to form a minority government.

Labor's prospects are somewhat brighter. It may end up with 74 seats, needing only to rely on newly-elected Greens MP Adam Bandt and Wilkie, who describes himself as a middle-of-the-road sort of person, to retain government.

- AAP

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