ABC election analyst Antony Green says Labor "looks to have won" the Eden-Monaro byelection, but neither Labor candidate Kristy McBain nor Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs has claimed victory in the close contest.
Pre-poll and postal votes are still being added to the total, with Labor currently sitting on 51.04 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote.
Mr Green says the Liberals would need to win 60 per cent of the outstanding ballots, with postal votes mainly to come, of which they had only won 50.7 per cent as of early Sunday morning.
So Labor looks to have won the #EdenMonaro by-election. With 5,000 postals included, and with the preferences counts for the Queanbeyan pre-polls reported, Labor has 51.2% with only the Narooma and Jindabyne PPVCs plus remaining postals to come. #auspolhttps://t.co/eDMGb2Uezc— Antony Green (@AntonyGreenABC) July 4, 2020
Labor candidate Kristy McBain addressed supporters in Merimbula just before 11pm on Saturday, but was careful in choosing her words not to tip a result.
"We still have a big challenge ahead of us. 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," she said.
"I need to be clear about this. When the cameras go away and the spotlight fades, my resolve will not. Regardless of the outcome of this election I will continue to stand up for these regions that I know and love."
Despite the lack of a definitive result, the Liberals' Fiona Kotvojs got a rousing reaction when she addressed voters at the Royal Hotel in Queanbeyan.
"It's been 100 years since the government has won a seat off the opposition in a byelection," Dr Kotvojs said.
"The average swing against the government has been 3.8 per cent in those byelections. So far, we are going the other way. And that's really good, that's fantastic."
Dr Kotvojs also talked about the challenges that remain in the seat.
"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."
"It's going to be tough after COVID-19. We have gone well, but it is going to be tough. A government that gives leadership, a government that gives direction, a government that sets a base that supports people is what we need."
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese addressed the crowd gathered in Merimbula's Sapphire Club and said Ms McBain was more than 2500 votes ahead in the counting.
He said when he learned Mike Kelly was resigning as the Member for Eden-Monaro, he knew Labor would struggle to hold the seat.
But he said Labor made a commitment to continue delivering for the electorate and he credited Kristy McBain with running a strong and positive campaign.
"Kristy McBain has already made a big difference to this community and will make an even bigger difference in the future," Mr Albanese said to raucous applause.
It's clear that the result is too close to call tonight.— Kristy McBain (@KristyMcBain) July 4, 2020
But that's okay.
In this election we said we would stand up for people.
And in this campaign we have definitely done that.
So thank you.
I'll keep you updated over the coming days. pic.twitter.com/whrMyn7iJt
More than half the votes in the byelection were cast before the official polling day on Saturday, leading to delays in counting votes for the ultra-marginal seat.
Ms McBain holds a very slim lead, with preferences from both the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party and Nationals Party heading towards the opposition.
Labor's primary vote has dropped almost 4 points from last election, which was expected as Mike Kelly had a strong personal vote. On Saturday evening it sat at 36.15 per cent, and Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs had 37.96 per cent of the primary vote.
The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party has picked up 5.8 per cent of the vote so far, with the Greens vote dropping and the Help End Marijuana Party seeing a 2.6 per cent vote.
Nationals candidate Trevor Hicks made a concession speech at around 9pm, thanking his family and supporters in the party.
"They've stood up for regional Australia all the time and they've stood up for me in the last few weeks," he said.
Politicians of all stripes descended on country towns across the rural and regional electorate on Saturday to support their candidates.
Labor's Kristy McBain started the day voting at Merimbula public school and focused her efforts on voting booths in the far south coast.
Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs focused her efforts on the more populous regional centres close to Canberra, casting her vote in Jerrabomberra and campaigning at Queanbeyan polling booths.
Nationals candidate Trevor Hicks also voted in Queanbeyan, while Nationals leader Michael McCormack travelled around the Snowy Mountains, hitting Tumut, Batlow and Tumbarumba as part of the effort for the party to make an impact on the votes.
Voting numbers were well below what had previously been experienced on previous election days. A record 43,684 voters cast their ballot before election day this year, and another 16,840 registered for postal votes.
Pre-poll votes are set to be counted on Saturday night while postal votes will be counted in the coming days.
The vast electorate that surrounds the ACT has suffered from drought, floods, bushfires and the coronavirus recession in recent months.
"Today is a chance to send government a message that six months on from the bushfires we shouldn't still be waiting for assistance," Ms McBain told reporters after casting her vote.
"A chance to send a message that businesses need help, and they need a plan for the future."
Dr Kotvojs said the electorate needs to be rebuilt after a tough six months.
"People need to think about which of the candidates is able to be a strong voice in government," she told reporters after casting her vote at a Jerrabomberra polling booth.
Nationals candidate Trevor Hicks hopes voters will look past the slick campaign machines of the two major parties and vote for him instead.
"It really needs somebody at this stage to support them after the fires, after the COVID restrictions that we've had, and the drought that has affected so many farmers," Mr Hicks told Sky News.
He confirmed Nationals preferences would be aimed at its coalition partner, the Liberals. Greens preferences will be going to Labor.
- with AAP