SYDNEY: Australia's elections are set to hang on a knife-edge, with no party streaking ahead in opinion polls with less than a week to go, raising the prospect of the first hung parliament in 70 years.
As Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the first woman to lead the country, battles a resurgent conservative opposition headed by Tony Abbott, polls predict that the August 21 contest could go down to the wire.
"At the moment it looks like it could be a hung parliament," Michele Levine, chief executive of the Roy Morgan polling group, told AFP on Sunday.
The latest Roy Morgan poll, which surveyed close to 1,000 voters across the country on Saturday, found centre-left Labor had the support of 51 percent of voters and the right-leaning Liberal/National coalition some 49 percent.
"If it (the election) had been held yesterday or today, it would be a hung parliament on those figures," Levine said. "It's all pretty close."
Gillard has conceded that she is heading into one of the tightest races in the nation's history, after a Nielsen poll released Saturday put her ahead 53 to 47 percent and a Newspoll found she would just scrape into government.
Polling in recent weeks has found that Labor is losing ground, and Levine said this could be partly due to voter unease about Gillard's brutal wresting of power from her former leader Kevin Rudd in a party coup in late June.
"That really plagued the whole of the Labor Party's first few weeks," Levine said. "There's a clear indication, in both our national polling and our marginal seat polling, that there is a move to the coalition," she added.
Although the candidates are starkly different -- Welsh-born Gillard is a career woman who has never married or had children while Abbott is a conservative family man who once trained to become a Catholic priest -- the campaign has been criticised as an election about nothing.
Political analyst Clement Macintyre said while it was an historic vote because it was the first time Australians have a chance to vote for a party led by a woman, the campaign has been lacklustre, dispiriting and unexciting.
"While the polling is so close both sides are conscious that one mistake could cost office and they are less bold and adventurous," Macintyre, who is head of politics at the University of Adelaide, told AFP.
The last time Australia faced a hung parliament was in September 1940 when the United Australia Party/Country Party coalition and the combined Labor parties each won 36 seats, leaving the balance of power with two independents.
Haydon Manning, head of politics at Flinders University in South Australia, said a similar result in 2010 was unlikely, but Saturday's election could see the rising influence of the Green vote.
While one party would likely win the lower house and form government, neither Labor or the Liberal/National coalition was expected to command a majority in the upper house, leaving the balance of power with the Greens.
"As a consequence, whoever governs, whoever forms government in the lower house, will have to go cap in hand frequently to negotiate with the Greens," he said.
With the polls on a knife-edge, pollsters say it is impossible to call the election, particularly given that about one-in-five voters do not make up their mind until they are in the polling booth.
"There is still movement right up until the last day," Levine said.