Sydney: Australians began voting in national elections Saturday with conservative leader Malcolm Turnbull the slight favourite ahead of Labor`s Bill Shorten, although opinion polls point to it being a close race.
Polling stations opened at 8:00 am (2200 GMT) with some 15.6 million electors taking part in a mandatory ballot across the huge country, with a final survey putting Turnbull, who has campaigned on economic management, marginally ahead.
After eight weeks on the hustings, a Newspoll published in The Australian showed his Liberal/National coalition 50.5 to 49.5 percent in front on a two-party basis, while a poll in the Sydney Morning Herald had them in a dead heat.
Shorten`s Labor needs to pick up an estimated 19 seats in the 150-seat parliament to secure the 76 it needs to govern in its own right.
The coalition, which headed into the election with a comfortable majority, can afford to lose as many as 13 seats and still hold power.
Turnbull called an election early because crossbenchers -- politicians who are independent or from minor parties -- hold the balance of power in the upper house Senate.
They have failed to pass deadlocked legislation to overhaul unions which provided the trigger for a double dissolution of parliament, where all seats in the upper and lower houses are contested.
The government currently has 33 upper house Senate seats and needs six more to pass legislation without having to negotiate with minor parties or independents.
But some experts are suggesting the upper house could end up with more crossbenchers after the election than before, as voters fed-up with traditional politicians look for alternatives.
Dozens of minor parties and niche candidates are standing with polls suggesting they will attract significant support.