Friday, August 27, 2010

149 down, all eyes on Brisbane

THE Liberals have taken the Perth seat of Hasluck, while Labor has almost certainly held the Barwon region seat of Corangamite so the battle for control of Australia now comes down to the seat of Brisbane.

Yesterday's counting in effect has left just one seat in doubt and the outcome now clear in 149 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives.

Labor has won 72 seats, and the Coalition 71. There will be six members on the crossbenches: four independents, one Greens and one WA National, Tony Crook, who plans to sit and vote independently from the Coalition.

And then there is Brisbane. Yesterday's counting of 5000 postal, pre-poll and absentee votes strongly favoured Liberal challenger Teresa Gambaro, almost doubling her lead from 382 votes on Wednesday night to 743 votes when counting ended.

But there are still about 12,000 votes left to count, half of them absentee and provisional votes that traditionally favour Labor.

Ms Gambaro now appears the likely winner, but the seat is still too close to call.

If she wins, the Coalition and Labor would be tied at 72 seats each. If sitting Labor MP Arch Bevis can win 53 per cent of the votes still to be counted and overhaul her, Labor would have 73 seats to the Coalition's 71.

Ms Gambaro, who was assistant immigration minister when she lost her outer suburban seat of Petrie in 2007, decided to challenge in Brisbane after she moved in and a redistribution made it marginal for Labor.

Last night, she said it was too early to claim victory. "I'm quietly hopeful," she said, "but we've got a lot of votes still to come. I just don't want today to be the exception."

Yesterday's counting made it certain that Australia will have its first Aboriginal member of the lower house, with Aboriginal health director Ken Wyatt taking the south-east Perth seat of Hasluck for the Liberals. Last night he led Labor MP Sharryn Jackson by 842 votes, with only about 4000 votes left to count.

But Labor now appears to have held Victoria's closest seat, Corangamite, where sitting MP Darren Cheeseman now leads Liberal rival Sarah Henderson by 906 votes with about 10,000 left to be counted. Mr Cheeseman pulled away yesterday in counting of about 2000 postal and absentee votes.

One of the keys to the Brisbane result is a record Greens vote for Queensland of 20.7 per cent, won by former Australian Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett, who has changed sides to become convener of the Greens' state campaign.

Mr Bartlett, who now works on refugee and indigenous matters, almost doubled the Greens vote to the highest in any seat outside Melbourne and Sydney.

He says he will now consider a tilt at State Parliament, where he says the Greens could win up to four seats in the 2012 election.