Australian parties seeking help
Leaders of Australia's two major political parties were lobbying for support from independent MPs to stitch together the nation's first minority government since the war.
Australia's dollar was trading lower as uncertainty remained over results of the closest elections in almost 50 years.
The ruling Labour Party lost seats to the environment-focused Greens party in a backlash over the government's shelving of plans to charge major polluters for every ton of carbon gas they emit.
The final results may not be known for a week or more but both Labour and the Liberal Party-led opposition conceded neither would achieve the 76 seats needed to form a government in the 150-seat lower chamber.
"So the question before all of us is this: which party is better able to form a stable and effective government in the national interest?" prime minister Julia Gillard, who remains caretaker leader, said.
Both Ms Gillard and Liberal leader Tony Abbott have initiated talks with three independents in the House of Representatives, as well as the Greens, in a bid to secure votes. Neither revealed what they were prepared to offer in the confidential negotiations.
With more than 78% of the vote counted, the Australian Electoral Commission said the centre-left Labour Party had won 71 seats and the opposition coalition 72. Most analysts agreed the coalition was likely to finish with 73, one seat ahead of Labour.
Independent Tony Windsor said he had not yet made a decision on which party to align himself with to help form the new government.
"There's a way to go yet and I'd ask people to breathe in," he said. "There's a process at work, the world won't come to an end and we'll make sure there's good governance hopefully for longer than a short period and hopefully for three years."
He said he would meet the other two independents, Rob Oakeshott and Bob Katter, in Canberra to discuss their preferences.