Australia election: Abbott poised for victory
Tony Abbott's Liberal-National coalition appears on course for a decisive win in Australia's general election.
Early counting showed a swing to the opposition coalition in several states, with exit polls forecasting it would secure a lower house majority.
Public broadcaster ABC's analyst has called the election for the coalition.
The campaign has been dramatic, with Kevin Rudd ousting Julia Gillard as PM and Labor leader weeks from the polls.
The economy, asylum and the carbon tax have been key election issues.
Mr Rudd called the election after defeating Julia Gillard in a leadership challenge in June, amid dismal polling figures that showed Labor on course for a wipe-out.
Under Mr Rudd, Labor initially saw its figures improve significantly. But Mr Abbott, who enjoyed the strident support of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers, then broadened the gap again.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation's election expert, Antony Green, says the coalition is on course for a majority and will defeat the government.
A Newspoll exit poll, released just over an hour before polling closed in the east of the country, predicted that the coalition would secure 97 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives.
With about half the votes counted, however, ABC News, put its estimate significantly lower, with the coalition predicted to win 88 seats to Labor's 59.
Labor's Defence Minister Stephen Smith, speaking on ABC television minutes after polls closed in the east, said the government "will be defeated tonight".
Mr Abbott, who took on the leadership of the coalition in 2009, cast his ballot in his northern Sydney seat of Warringah early on Saturday.
A Rhodes scholar who once wanted to be a priest, Mr Abbott has pledged to repeal both the mining and carbon taxes introduced by Labor.
He has also promised a raft of budget cuts - including reducing the foreign aid budget by A$4.5bn ($4bn, £2.6bn) - but says he will fund an expanded paid parental leave scheme.
Mr Rudd, a former diplomat who served as prime minister from 2007-2010 before being ousted by Julia Gillard, voted in his Brisbane seat of Griffith.
The ABC predicts he will hold his seat, once preferential votes are included.
The election in 2010 resulted in a hung parliament, forcing Labor to enter into alliances with independents and the Greens to form a minority government. It currently holds 71 seats in the lower house to the coalition's 72.
The economy has been at the heart of campaigning. Australia's next leader will be charged with managing the transition as the mining and resources boom subsides, amid slowing demand from China and slumping commodity prices.
Both parties have also announced tough asylum policies to stem the number of people reaching Australia's shores by boat, an apparent cause of anxiety in some crucial swinging electorates.
The coalition, meanwhile, has highlighted bitter Labor infighting - seeking to portray itself as the more stable party.
Former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke blamed the internal divisions for Labor's apparent defeat.
"I really believe this was an election that was lost by the government rather than one that was won by the opposition."
More than 14 million people were expected to vote in Saturday's election. Voting is compulsory in Australia.
Polling closed in eastern states at 18:00 (08:00GMT) and in Western Australia two hours later.