If there was one overwhelming message for Australia's major parties from Saturday's election, it was that the days of the two-party system were over, Bob Katter told Channel 10 after easily holding his vast north Queensland seat.

Katter's view has real force for caretaker Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition leader Tony Abbott, both hovering in a political limbo.

He is one of five men being courted as kingmakers following the failure of either Labor or the Coalition to win a majority in the House of Representatives, and thus government.

In the Senate, the Greens will hold the balance of power and the keys to legislation from the Lower House.

But it is in the House that the election has hit the major parties hardest.

The next prime minister will be the one who can convince three - probably four - independents, and the Greens first federal MP, to support their bid for minority government.

This will mean intense negotiation both now to win office, and during the next three years to ensure key legislation continues to pass through the House and that the Government can continue to function.

Three of the independents have been re-elected: Katter and New South Wales MPs Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott.

All were once members of the rural-based junior Coalition partner the Nationals, and all represent conservative rural electorates traditionally antagonistic to Labor. But their support for a Coalition government cannot be taken for granted.

All became independents after falling out with the Nationals, with Katter and Windsor on Saturday night attacking outspoken Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce as a "fool", and suffering abuse in return from party leader Warren Truss.

While they could face anger in their electorates by throwing their weight behind Labor, they have in the past been highly critical of Coalition Administrations, applauded Labor initiatives, and in this election have welcomed some Government policies.

The three, who spoke in a conference call yesterday, hope to forge a common approach and have already been publicly acknowledged and privately contacted by Gillard and Abbott.

Negotiations may continue for some time but, if not before, they are expected to throw more light on their positions when they address a National Press Club panel on Wednesday.

All have said their first priority will be to decide which party has the best chance of stability in government, a process that will include the Greens' hold on the Senate.

All will also be seeking the bestdeal for rural Australia, often sidelined by parties focused on power in the cities.

All reject tightening of immigration or population growth, which the major parties advocated in the campaign but which they see as essential for the survival of agriculture and the bush.

Other concerns include a national broadband system, health services, and water and the environment, including renewable energy.

These three seem almost certain to be joined by former Army Lieutenant Colonel and Iraqi War whistleblower Andrew Wilkie, who appears to have captured the Tasmanian seat of Denison, which includes Hobart, from Labor.

Although a former Greens Senate candidate and nominally supportive of Labor, Wilkie said hewould back the party best able to provide stable, competent and ethical government.

Adam Bandt, who became the first Greens MP by winning the seat of Melbourne from Labor, will support the Government.

THE KINGMAKERS
Adam Bandt
Seat: Melbourne, Victoria
Party: Greens
Who: A former industrial barrister who took retiring Labor Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner's seat. It's the Greens' first Lower House seat won at a general election. Bandt says he's inclined to support Labor

Bob Katter
Seat: Kennedy, north Queensland
Party: Independent
Who: He was a labourer and an investor in cattle and mining interests. The former Nationals MP has been an Independent for nine years. He says broadband access is a key issue

Rob Oakeshott
Seat: Lyne, NSW
Party: Independent
Who: A former administrative officer at the Road Transport Forum. He is also a former Nationals MP

Andrew Wilkie
Seat: Denison, Tasmania
Party: Independent
Who: A former soldier and intelligence analyst who became a whistleblower over the use of intelligence to make the case for the Iraq war. Has previously belonged to the Liberal and Green parties

Tony Windsor
Seat: New England, northern NSW
Party: Independent
Who: Was a farmer, economist and Nationals politician. He says government stability and broadband are key issues and he is undecided which party he will support.

INFORMAL VOTES COULD HIT RECORD NUMBER

Whether by design or mistake, a record number of Australians are cutting themselves out of the political debate by casting informal votes - spoiled ballots.

In what appears to be a new record, by yesterday a total of 618,435 voters had delivered informal votes.

That is 5.64 per cent of all votes cast - a rise of 1.69 per cent on the 2007 election, although with counting continuing, that figure could change.

Australian Electoral Commission spokesman Phil Diak said the informal voting rate did appear higher this time, although there was no information at this stage to say why.

"The AEC, as a matter of course, does conduct a review of the informal ballot papers, looks at all the ballot papers, after each federal election."

ABC electoral analyst Antony Green said this was the highest percentage of informal votes since 1984 when the rate hit 6.3 per cent. In the 1983 election the rate was 2.1 per cent. Informal voting appears to be on the rise, running at 3.2 per cent for the House of Representatives in 1996, 3.8 per cent in 1998, 4.8 per cent in 2001, 5.2 per cent in 2004 and 4 per cent in 2007.

In the lead-up to the election, former Labor leader turned reporter Mark Latham urged voters to cast an informal vote as a protest against the major parties. Latham said the high informal vote was down to voter disillusionment and disengagement.

"Don't forget all the media criticism about the nature of the campaign, very little policy difference, very little that was worthwhile for the Australian people ..," he told Sky News.

The AEC defines an informal vote as an unmarked ballot paper, one not initialled by a polling place official and which may not be authentic, one not filled out correctly or one where the voters identify themselves, also ballots marked with just the figure one or with ticks or crosses.

- AAP