Australians on Saturday casted their votes to elect their government for the next three years after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called for early elections in May in a bid to oust Senate members who would block major economic reforms.
Early counting shows a seizable swing toward the opposition Labour Party, indicating that this gamble by Turnbull, the leader of the conservative Liberal Party-led coalition, might backfire.
In order to reach a reform mandate, Turnbull dissolved both houses of parliament to oust intransigent independents in the upper house Senate.
Turnbull says minor parties, possibly in a coalition with the centre-left Labour, cannot succeed in reviving the country's economy, which is in its first mining downturn in a century, and balance public finances after years of deficits.
"There has never been a more exciting time to vote for a stable, majority coalition government and an economic plan that secures our future," Turnbull, who has invoked Brexit fears in his campaigning, told reporters after voting in his Sydney electorate.
Voting is compulsory for all eligible Australians, but is treated as a celebration instead of a duty throughout the country. Voting boots are accompanied by cake stalls and barbeques, and official polling maps shows which stations also have "sausage sizzles."
Opposition leader Bill Shorten seemed relatively laid back during voting as he brought lamingtons, traditional chocolate and coconut cakes, but he did not skip warning the public against reelecting the coalition.
"The cuts are severe and they are real," he told reporters, referring to the coalition's health and education policies.
The Labour Party is the only opponent that might challenge Turnbull’s Liberal Party-led coalition. Independents also could win enough seats and force a minority government in the lower house.
In the South Australian capital of Adelaide, one of the areas that could help swing the overall result, centrist independent Nick Xenophon zipped around on the bright orange motorcycle that he has used as his semi-official touring bus.
Asked if he would allow the government to immediately pass its cornerstone A$50 billion ($37 billion) corporate tax cuts if his party held the balance of power in the senate, Xenophon said: "No.”
"They need to sort out the future of manufacturing in this country and the many tens of thousands of jobs that are affected by it," he said.
Anti-immigration far right parties also appeared on the ballots. One Nation’s Pauline Hanson is a strong contender to win a position in the Senate.