SYDNEY - Australia's Labor Party was on track to win a state election in Queensland on Saturday (25 Nov) in a tight contest which saw far-right firebrand Pauline Hanson's One Nation party perform worse than expected.
With about 70 per cent of the vote counted last night in the country's third most populous state, Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was expected to win but may be able to only form a minority government. According to analysis by ABC News, Labor was set to win 45 of 93 seats, with the conservative Liberal National (LNP) opposition due to take 38, two to the rural-based Katter Australia Party and eight still uncertain.
Ms Palaszczuk, 48, said that she believed she was set to win but would not declare victory and would await the final count.
"I remain confident that we will be able to form a majority Labor government once all the votes are counted," she said.
A former LNP state Premier, Mr Campbell Newman, said he thought Labor was likely to win.
"This has been a very bad night for the LNP but it has also been a very bad night for One Nation," he told Sky News. "They have really blown it."
The LNP appeared to have done poorly in a result that will add to the leadership pressure on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who heads the ruling federal Liberal National coalition.
At recent federal elections, Queensland has become something of a battleground state and has numerous crucial tightly-fought seats.
The poor result for the state's LNP will worry its federal counterpart, which is already trailing badly in opinion surveys.
Analysts noted that Mr Turnbull largely stayed away from Queensland during the election campaign and was not seen as an asset for the state's conservative candidates.
A conservative political commentator, Ms Peta Credlin, once a key aide of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who was ousted by Mr Turnbull in a party room coup, said that she thought the Queensland result added to the likelihood of a leadership change. She said on Sky News that she believed Peter Dutton, the hard-line Federal Immigration Minister, should replace Mr Turnbull.
But the result was also disappointing for the One Nation party and suggests that its recent upward trajectory may be ending.
The anti-migrant and protectionist party is led federally by Ms Hanson, who is from Queensland, which is effectively the party's national base.
One Nation was set to win about 13 per cent of the vote yesterday but may not win any seats. It won 21 per cent of the vote in rural areas but just 10 per cent in south-east Queensland, which covers heavily populated areas including the capital, Brisbane, and the Gold Coast.
Ms Hanson tried to put on a brave face on Saturday , insisting that the party had given a "shock" to the major parties.
"I think this is a clear indication One Nation isn't going anywhere," she said.
"We'll be around for a while yet… There is a great potential for One Nation to win senate seats at the next federal election."
Queensland, with a population of five million, has a strong economy based around mining, farming, tourism, manufacturing and services.
The state has a big metropolitan region in the southeast, where Labor and the Greens performed strongly.
But the rural areas, particularly in the northern parts of the state, often deliver unpredictable results and tend to favour populist - and sometimes maverick - candidates. These areas have pockets of high unemployment, with some parts having jobless rates of more than double the national average of 5.4 per cent.
One of the most divisive issues at the election was the plan by Indian mining and energy giant Adani to build a controversial A$16.5 billion (S$16.9 billion) coal mine in the centre of the state that will be one of the largest in the world. The mine has proven unpopular in Brisbane and the southeast due to concerns about its environmental impact but is popular in some rural areas that have been affected by a resources downturn in recent years.
The likely Labor victory will be bad news for Adani and will raise further questions about the future of the project.