Around half of Australia’s 17 million electors have voted early or applied for postal votes due to the pandemic, which will likely slow the count.

More than seven million people have cast early or postal ballots, according to the Australian Electoral Commission.
More than seven million people have cast early or postal ballots, according to the Australian Electoral Commission. (AFP)

The first polls have closed and counting is under way in Australia's fiercely fought national election that could end a decade of unbroken conservative rule.

Election frontrunner Anthony Albanese asked voters on Saturday to give his centre-left party a "crack" at running the country, and urged people to spurn "divisive" Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Albanese, the 57-year-old Labor Party leader, said he was "very positive" about the outcome as Australians went to the polls in their millions.

Albanese has pledged to end Australia's foot dragging on climate change, help people struggling with soaring prices and to hold a referendum on giving indigenous people an institutional voice in national policy making.

"I feel a sense of momentum," Albanese said on Saturday as he visited a polling station in Melbourne, posing for selfies with locals and their dogs.

"We have plans to embrace the opportunities that are there from acting on climate change," he said.

Neither party assured of victory

In a land scarred by ever more ferocious bushfires, floods, and droughts, climate change was on many voters' minds.

"I grew up in a community that's been really heavily affected by the fires and the floods over the past five years," first time voter Jordan Neville said in Melbourne.

"To see something be done about that and stop that happening again would be amazing."

As long queues formed in many stations, incumbent Morrison accused Albanese of "hubris" in predicting a centre-left Labor win.

"You can't get ahead of yourself," the 54-year-old leader said in a last pre-election pitch as he hammered home his message that Labor cannot be trusted to manage the economy.

Voting is compulsory, enforced with a $14 (Aus$20) fine but also rewarded at many booths that fired up barbecues to offer people a free "democracy sausage".

More than 17.2 million eligible voters will elect 151 members of the House of Representatives. The election will decide who controls the House of Representatives, the Senate and who lives in the prime minister's "Lodge".

More than seven million people cast early or postal ballots, according to the Australian Electoral Commission, almost half the electorate. Two final polls put Labor six points ahead of Morrison's Liberal-led coalition, but with the race narrowing and neither party assured of an outright victory.

READ MORE: Election campaign kicks off in Australia, opposition ahead in polls

Source: TRTWorld and agencies