2019 Australia election: Vote count under way in eastern states

An electioneer handouts how to vote cards at a voting booth in Balwyn for the seat of Kooyong during Election Day in Melbourne, Australia, 18 May 2019Image copyright EPA
Image caption Early polls suggest a victory for the Labor Party

Counting is under way in Australia in one of the most closely fought general elections in years.

Polls have just shut in Western Australia, two hours after voting ended in the east. Early exit data suggesting a victory for the opposition Labor Party – its first in six years.

A win for Labor would make its leader Bill Shorten the next PM, succeeding centre-right Liberal Scott Morrison.

Australia has mandatory voting and a record 16.4 million enrolled voters.

Both leaders were out early at polling booths on Saturday, in a last-ditch pitch for votes.

Shortly after polls in the east of the country closed, a Nine-Galaxy poll showed Labor beating the incumbent Liberal coalition 52-48, with a parliamentary majority. The poll was based on 3,300 voters in 33 seats.

A poll for the Ten news network predicted similar results but live results and projections from Australia’s national broadcaster, ABC News showed the Liberal coalition doing well in Queensland.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott is projected to lose his seat in Warringah to former Olympic skier Zali Steggall.

What are Australians voting for?

Saturday’s vote is the first general election since political infighting ousted Australia’s fourth leader in a decade.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he has united his conservative government in the nine months since he replaced Malcolm Turnbull.

But Mr Shorten has pressed his case with stark policy alternatives, promising to cut tax breaks for the wealthy and to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Australia holds elections every three years, but no prime minister has succeeded in serving a full term since 2007.

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Media captionWhy Australians get fined if they don’t turn up to vote

What were the key issues?

Surveys showed that the economy, cost of living, environment and health were central concerns for voters.

It has been in many ways a generational issue election, experts say, with younger people in particular voicing frustration about climate change and a lack of affordable housing.

Others have argued that older Australians would be most affected by tax reform proposals that have dominated much of the campaign.

It follows fierce debates in the past year about the rolling leadership turmoil, formal recognition of indigenous Australians, and the treatment of female MPs in parliament.

Who are the contenders?

As the Liberal-National government seeks its third term, Mr Morrison claims to have healed bitter internal divisions that brought down Mr Turnbull.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Both Scott Morrison (R) and Bill Shorten are promising stable leadership after years of turmoil

He has campaigned primarily on economic issues, often doing so alone while painting the election as a choice between himself and Mr Shorten.

Mr Shorten, who has led Labor for six years, has instead emphasised his team’s stability and policies on climate change, cost of living and health.

Also vying for support are minor parties including the Greens, One Nation and the United Australia Party, as well as a raft of independents.

Crunch time after fierce campaign

By Hywel Griffith, BBC News Australia correspondent

Australians follow the maxim often attributed to Al Capone: “Vote early – and vote often.”

The rapid cycle of state and federal elections means it is never too long before people have to head back to the polling booths.

And given that it is compulsory to take part, many like to get voting out of the way nice and early so that they can get on with their weekend.

This time around the campaign has been fierce, but it has produced few surprises – even an attempt to egg the prime minister didn’t reveal any cracks.

If Scott Morrison does survive the vote, he’ll be revered as a one-man election-winning machine, who fought and won largely on his own.

If he loses, Australia will have its fourth prime minister in just four years.

How did the vote work?

Australian elections always take place on Saturdays. This time about 7,000 polling stations were set up across the nation, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) said.

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Media captionOne of these candidates is expected to make history in Australia’s upcoming election.

But people could vote early at pre-polling stations, and a record number – more than four million people – elected to do so in 2019.

Because voting is compulsory, anyone aged over 18 faces a A$20 (£11; $14) fine for not taking part.

At the last election, 95% of Australians voted – a much higher proportion than the most recent US (55%) and UK (69%) polls.

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