Election night drama as no result reached
There was still no official result in the Eden-Monaro by-election when vote counting stopped late on Saturday night.
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) halted the count at 11pm with about two-thirds of the vote tallied.
Its efforts had been slowed by coronavirus safety measures, along with the unusually high number of pre-poll votes.
"We have a policy of 'right, not rushed' - which I think you'd agree is important," the AEC said in response to criticism on social media.
As things stand, Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs has won 38 per cent of the primary vote, compared to 36.2 per cent for Labor's Kristy McBain, 6.3 per cent for National Trevor Hicks, 5.6 per cent for the Shooters and Fishers' Matthew Stadtmiller, and 5.6 per cent for the Greens' Cathy Griff.
That translates to a two-party-preferred vote of 51.2-48.8 per cent, in favour of Labor.
The count will continue tomorrow.
Eden-Monaro was previously held by Mike Kelly, a popular Labor MP who was forced to quit politics due to chronic health issues, stemming from his service in the Army.
If Dr Kotvojs were to win, it would mark the first time in 100 years that an incumbent federal government had managed to gain a seat from the opposition at a by-election.
LABOR CANDIDATE'S EMOTIONAL SPEECH
It was an awkward situation for the two major party candidates on Saturday night, with neither able to claim victory.
Ms McBain spoke first shortly before the count stopped, appearing alongside federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese.
"I said when Mike Kelly resigned that it would be tough for Labor to hold this seat. That we started off on 48 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote, because we lost a member who had been an outstanding representative," Mr Albanese said.
"But we made a commitment at that point that we would stand up during this campaign, as the Australian Labor Party always will, for the people who are left behind.
"It is too early to claim an outcome. What we can declare is, as of right now, we are over 2500 votes ahead. And I would much rather be Kristy McBain than one of her opponents right now."
That sparked cheers from Ms McBain's supporters.
"We said during this campaign it would be about the people of Eden-Monaro, and it will continue to be," Mr Albanese continued.
"(Ms McBain) is articulate, she is considered in what she has to say. She is someone who is about finding solutions, not just having arguments. She is someone who has already made an enormous difference to this community, and will make an even bigger difference in the future."
Ms McBain herself then addressed the crowd.
"The lesson we have learnt from the Black Summer bushfires is that leadership matters. It matters when you show up and it matters that you show up and it matters that you listen to people," Ms McBain said.
"Over the next couple of days the spotlight will fade, the mail in your letter boxes will dry up - the robo calls will end!" she joked.
"Recovery is going to be hard in Eden-Monaro, and we need to continue to fight every single day to support the people that are being left behind and are falling through the cracks.
"I need to be clear about this. When the cameras go away and the spotlight fades, my resolve will not."
The candidate grew emotional as she closed out her speech.
"Regardless of the coutcome of this election, I will continue to stand up for these regions that I know and love," she said, her voice cracking.
"I will continue to stand up for people affected by bushfires. Continue to stand up for farmers. I will continue to stand up for mothers who need maternity services. I will continue to stand up for mothers who need maternity services. I will continue to stand up for better roads, better access to health care and education.
"I will continue to stand up for workers and I will continue to stand up for regions. Regardless of what happens."
Mr Albanese briefly returned to the microphone when Ms McBain finished to deliver one last piece of praise.
"There is only one thing that Kristy got wrong there, which is that there was a risk in picking Kristy McBain. I have never been so proud to be a member of the Australian Labor Party as I have campaigning by the side of this outstanding candidate, and advocate for people who really need the advocacy at the moment."
LIBERAL CANDIDATE LAUDS 'FANTASTIC' EFFORT
Dr Kotvojs addressed her supporters a few minutes later, emphasising the historical trend she was fighting against.
"We don't have a result, and it would be really nice to say that we did tonight, but we don't," Dr Kotvojs said.
"It's been 100 years since the government has won a seat off the opposition in a by-election. The average swing against the government has been 3.8 per cent in those by-elections. So far, we are going the other way.
"That's really good. That's fantastic."
She said it had been a "tough year" for the people of Eden-Monaro.
"Twelve months ago, if you had asked somebody to write down what was going to happen in the next 12 months in Australia, you would never have written down what has happened. You would have thought it was science fiction if somebody had written it, you would have told them it was rubbish," said Dr Kotvojs.
"This has been a tough year. So tough.
"It's important that we work together as a community and that we deal with these issues. That we have the leadership from the government, and we have somebody who works for us to connect the two. That is what matters for me.
"We have still got, in our community, a tough couple of years coming ahead. Recovering from the fires is going to be tough. It is hard, and unless you have been through it, I don't think anybody knows how hard it is.
"The other thing that is essential is a community that loves, cares and respects each other. A community that supports each other.
"If we keep doing that as a society, we are going to come out of all of this stronger than we were when we went in. That is the Australia I want to be a part of."
She said she would continue to work in pursuit of that idea, whatever the result of the by-election.
'LOW BLOW': ELECTION NIGHT BUST-UP
Every Australian election night inevitably features at least one spat between a pair of TV panellists.
On Saturday, the pair in question were Labor's Shadow Home Affairs Minister Kristina Keneally and the Liberal Party's Environment Minister Sussan Ley.
Speaking on the ABC panel, Ms Ley got stuck into Ms Keneally for what she alleged was a "preference deal" between Labor and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers (SFF) Party.
The SFF elected to divert its preferences to the Labor Party, which could push Ms McBain over the line.
"I think that if they had to do a deal with the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers to achieve the result then they're strange bedfellows indeed," Ms Ley said.
"Let's not forget, let's not forget that the Shooters and Fishers have kept the name 'Shooters' for a reason. They are against gun laws. Very strange bedfellows."
Ms Keneally was quick to fire back, denying there was any preference deal and calling Ms Ley's comments a "rubbish", a "low blow" and a "cheap shot".
"Their (SFF) voters are tending to follow their own choice, but the Shooters and Fishers made the decision to preference Labor above the Liberal Party because they were of the view that this Liberal Party had left people behind," she declared.
"Left them behind with the bushfires. Left them behind in the drought. Left them behind with the Jobseeker and JobKeeper program and the millions of people who have been cut off."
Ms Ley came back swinging, suggesting Labor would have to live with the result of the "deal".
"There is symbolism and the statements you make about having a party that has, you know, the views that it does associated with your result in this campaign and that's something that you do have to own, whatever that result is," she said.
The SFF released their own statement on the matter earlier on Saturday, claiming "all the major parties are cut from the same cloth … everyone knows there is no difference between them anymore".
"We are recommending going against the Governing party because they haven't performed," the statement read.
"If Labor was in power we would go against them too if their leader was in Hawaii while the District they claimed to care about was burning to the ground."
As votes continued to slowly trickle in, Ms Ley and Ms Keneally continued to butt heads - perhaps for a lack of anything else to do.
'DOWN TO THE WIRE'
At last year's federal election, Eden-Monaro was decided by just 1685 votes, and with Mr Kelly - who carried a strong personal vote - out of the picture, this year's result was always expected to be even closer.
Speaking to the ABC, Ms Keneally said Labor's scrutineers were seeing a swing away from Labor on the south coast, which was decimated during the bushfire crisis earlier this year.
She suggested this was a result of former MP Mike Kelly stepping down from his seat, and taking the votes of people who liked him, but not the party, with him.
"I really think at the end of the day, people are - you know, they're just so stressed, they are so frustrated by this pandemic, and they are not in the mood for politics as usual," she said.
"This is going to come down to the wire tonight."
In hindsight, "tonight" was a little too optimistic.
Ms McBain and Dr Kotvojs made their final pleas to voters on Saturday afternoon, with Ms McBain, who served as Mayor of Bega during the devastating bushfire crisis earlier this year, arguing her election would "send the government a message".
She said she would work closely with Deputy Premier and Nationals state MP John Barilaro, to achieve "outcomes for the community", including better assistance to families who had lost everything in the fires, if elected.
Dr Kotvojs focused her pitch more on jobs, speaking with voters at polling booths about the Federal Government's road and infrastructure projects, plans for businesses and rebuilding the economy after the pandemic.
Speaking to Sky News, she leaned heavily on her relationship with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, claiming she had spoken to him over the phone every day in the lead-up to the election.
"Last night we had a really long conversation," she said.
"He's always finding out what people are talking about, what I'm hearing when I'm talking to people … so it's been good."
More than half of the votes for the Eden-Monaro by-election were in before polls opened on Saturday, with postal votes and pre-polling accounting for more than 60,000 votes.
A total of 16,840 applications for a postal vote had been made, twice the amount requested at the 2019 election, and 43,684 votes were cast in pre-polling booths before close of business on Friday.
While not all postal vote applications will necessarily turn into votes, an AEC spokesman told NCA NewsWire it was likely slightly more than half the electorate - comprised of about 114,000 eligible voters - had cast their ballot before Saturday.