LIBERAL candidate Sarah Henderson has clawed back half her deficit in the closely fought seat of Corangamite, raising the Coalition’s hopes that it could finish with more seats than Labor – and win the independents’ support.
Further counting in the seats in doubt yesterday was mostly good for the Coalition and bad for Labor. Corangamite became closer, Dunkley and Boothby safer for their Liberal MPs.
The counts changed constantly, going backwards as sometimes more votes were removed than added. But last night, only two seats had candidates with majorities of less than 0.5 per cent: Hasluck, where the Liberals lead narrowly, and Corangamite.
Counting of pre-poll and absentee votes lifted Ms Henderson to 40,772 votes or 49.61 per cent, just 637 votes behind first-term Labor MP Darren Cheeseman with 41,409 or 50.39 per cent. On Monday night she had trailed by 1230 votes.
In Hasluck, Labor was hoping the pre-poll and postal votes would bring the seat back to sitting MP Sharryn Jackson; instead they widened the lead of her Liberal challenger, Aboriginal health expert Ken Wyatt. Last night he had 50.41 per cent of the vote, a lead of 586.
If the Liberals take both seats, the Coalition would have 74 seats in the new Parliament to Labor’s 71 – and a strong claim to the support of the independents.
Australian Electoral Commission spokesman Brendan Barlow said there were still about 15,000 ballot papers – lodged as postals, pre-polls or absentees – that had not yet been counted in Hasluck, ensuring the result would remain in doubt for some time yet.
A result is not expected until the middle of next week – which will merely be the cue for a recount.
The big development in yesterday’s counting was the completion of the preference distribution in Denison, which confirmed independent Andrew Wilkie as the winner, with a lead of 1375 votes over Labor newcomer Jonathan Jackson.
However, the former army intelligence officer again refused to acknowledge his own victory, apparently fearing there might be some improvised explosive device ahead in the 10,000 or so postal, pre-poll and absentee votes yet to be counted.
Mr Jackson and Greens candidate Geoff Couser also refused to concede defeat, apparently hoping there might be something odd to come. Others see Mr Wilkie’s lead as unassailable.
He won almost 70 per cent of Liberal and Green preferences, sweeping affluent suburbs such as Sandy Bay and inner suburbs Battery Point and Dynnyrne to end up with 28,493 votes, or 51.24 per cent, while Mr Jackson had 27,118 or 48.76 per cent.
In the Frankston electorate of Dunkley, Liberal frontbencher Bruce Billson widened his lead to 906 votes, and appears on track to hold the seat.
It was the same story in the Adelaide seat of Boothby, where Liberal MP Andrew Southcott extended his lead to more than 1000 votes, and now looks safe.
But Labor lifted its vote in another seat in doubt, Brisbane, where sitting MP Arch Bevis now trails former Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro by just 657 votes.
If Labor holds two of Corangamite, Hasluck and Brisbane, it would have 73 seats and the support of Greens MP Adam Bandt, making 74 in the 150-member House to the Coalition’s 72.
Among other close seats, the Coalition leads in Macquarie and Labor in Lindsay, Greenway and Moreton.