Gladys Berejiklian has thanked voters for supporting a child of immigrants "with a long surname" to become the first female popularly elected NSW Premier, while Michael Daley conceded defeat he said he would remain Labor leader.
What you need to know:
- Counting resumes on Sunday with Gladys Berejiklian hoping to win one more seat to allow the Coalition to govern in its own right for its third term.
- By Saturday night the Coalition had 46 seats, 34 for the Liberals, 12 for the Nationals with Labor on 35 - short of the 47 seats needed to form a majority government in the 93-seat parliament.
- Michael Daley has conceded Labor's defeat.
- The final vote count is expected to be completed by April 12.
With just over 50 per cent of the votes counted, Gladys Berejiklian has announced that the Coalition will be returning for a third term, making her the first popularly elected female premier in NSW history.
"First and foremost, I want to thank the people of this great state for having confidence in me and my government," she said to cheers from supporters at the Liberal party election headquarters in Sydney.
"Everybody in this state has the chance to be their best," said Ms Berejiklian, who was born in Sydney to Armenian immigrant parents.
"A state in which someone with a long surname - and a woman - can be the Premier of NSW."
Labor leader Michael Daley had announced minutes earlier that he had called the NSW Premier to offer her his congratulations.
"A short time ago I called Premier and congratulated her on her victory. Even though the result is still not finally certain," he said, speaking at the Labor election headquarters in Coogee.
"Whilst of course I'm disappointed in the result tonight, I am so proud of your efforts."
Mr Daley said he intends to remain the leader of the NSW Labor party.
"It really hasn't been all that great a night for the major parties. And we do have more work to do if we're not going to see a continual erosion of public confidence in the political system," he added.
Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten also congratulated Ms Berejiklian on her win, while Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Coalition had "returned good government to NSW once again".
Australia's first female prime minister, Labor's Julia Gillard, congratulated Ms Berejiklian for being the first woman to win an NSW election and said that "there were far too few women leaders".
Ahead of the vote, analysts, politicians and poll numbers had framed the election as one of the closest in decades. It is likely the final results will not be revealed for several days.
At this stage, it is too early to call whether the Coalition will be able to form a majority government or whether they will need to rely on independents.
"Whether or not my government is a majority or minority government, we will work closely with the three minority parties in the NSW government, which is so important for NSW," Ms Berejiklian said.
Speaking on ABC News, NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said Ms Berejiklian is a "success story".
"To have somebody who, when she first went to school couldn't speak English, to rise up to be the first elected woman Premier of New South Wales, is a fantastic thing," he said.
According to ABC election analyst Antony Green, the Liberal-Nationals have secured at least 45 seats of the 47 needed to form a majority government in the 93-seat parliament.
Despite losing six seats, Mr Perrottet said it was "a solid result".
"If it's not a strong result, it's certainly a solid result," he said.
Labor frontbencher Jodi McKay said it was a "disappointing result" for Labor, but maintained that it was "not a victory that the government can crow about".
Early on in the evening there appeared to be a swing towards the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party (SFF), with SFF candidate Philip Donato taking an early lead in the once safe Nationals seat of Orange, which he won in the 2016 byelection by just 50 votes.
The SFF also picked up the seat of Murray and may nab the seat Barwon from the Nationals.
In Newtown, the smallest electorate in NSW, Greens MP Jenny Leong hung on to her seat, defeating Indigenous elder Aunty Norma Ingram, who was hoping to become the only Indigenous woman in NSW Parliament.
The result marked a significant swing to the party, which has recently suffered from infighting and defections.
Two shock byelection losses in Orange and Wagga Wagga, in 2016 and 2018 respectively, had reduced the Coalition majority on the parliament floor. As a result, a loss of just six seats for the government would have seen them lose their majority. To win outright, however, Labor would have had to pick up an additional 13 seats.
More than 1.3 million voters opted to vote early in this election, including 82,700 postal votes, the NSW Electoral Commission said.
‘Two major setbacks’
Ms McKay pointed to events in the last week as "major setbacks" for Labor, referring to Mr Daley's stumble in a leadership debate and the surfacing of a video showing the NSW Labor leader commenting that immigrants were "moving in" and "taking the jobs" in Sydney.
"Our young children will flee and who are they being replaced with? They are being replaced by young people from typically Asia with PhDs," the then-deputy Labor leader told the Politics in the Pub function in Wentworth Falls.
The NSW Labor leader apologised for the comments, which were made in September last year, earlier this week.
"In making these points, I could have expressed myself better. I could have chosen better words. There's no doubt about that. No offence was meant and I hope none has been taken,” he said.
But according to his colleagues, it wasn’t enough.
"Look, to be honest, I think last week really hurt us," Ms McKay said on ABC News.
"I won't say that they were racist comments. They were very, very poorly worded comments and he apologised for that. Do I wish he said those? No. Do I agree with what he said? No. But I do think that it did not help our case for forming government."
What were the key issues?
In the lead up to the election, both leaders were promising to spend big.
The government's controversial plans to demolish Sydney's Allianz Stadium dominated debate, with Labor seizing on the issue to question whether it is an appropriate use of public money and using the slogan "schools and hospitals not Sydney stadiums".
But Ms Berejiklian said NSW "can have it all" and promised that the new stadium will attract "world-renowned sporting events, high-level corporate sponsorship, a massive injection of tourism dollars, a surrounding local business boom and of course more jobs".
"As Premier, I will never ask you to choose between having world-class schools, hospitals, transport, roads, stadiums or cultural facilities - because the hard work we've done means that today, NSW can have it all," she said as she officially launched her re-election campaign.
Beyond stadiums; climate, education, health and transport were all major issues for voters.
Both major parties focused on health and education, making big promises in these areas along with public transport.