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Coalition squeaks home in Australia but scene set for fractious politics

Opinion Piece

Malcolm Turnbull and his Liberal-National coalition have squeaked home after Australia’s longest election campaign and longest wait for a result. The challenge now for Turnbull is to ensure it is not a Pyrrhic victory.

It took eight days after the polls closed before Turnbull was able to claim victory, and counting will go on for some time yet thanks to Australia’s complicated system of preferential voting.

At last count the coalition had mustered the 76 seats needed to form a majority government.

Turnbull was able to declare victory on Sunday when the coalition had 73 seats, thanks to the assured support of three independent MPs. Poll watchers say the government could win one more seat but would struggle to win more, leaving it with a slim parliamentary majority.

Things are more confused in the Senate where the final result may not be known until August. The situation there is made more fractious by the return of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and some other single-minded independents.

Another problem for Turnbull is that he faces opposition from a conservative sector within his own party. They are already highly critical of him after a stunning win in the previous election has been followed by this nail-biter.

Turnbull will be very aware that the man he replaced in a coup, Tony Abbott, is still there and that he will have to carefully watch his back. Australia has had four prime ministers in quick succession, and it would be no big surprise if there were to be a fifth.

In his concession speech, Labour’s Bill Shorten pledged to work with the government and where possible collaborate to help overcome the problems that Australia faces. That is unlikely to translate into much actual co-operation, especially with Turnbull having to appease the right-wing faction of his party.

Because of our close trade and political links, it is extremely important for New Zealand that Australia prospers and thrives.

If just a quarter of the 600,000-plus New Zealanders living in Australia decided to come home, we really would have an immigration problem.