Richmond result remains unclear

VOTE counting in the knife-edge seat of Richmond continued throughout the day yesterday, with electoral officers still unclear of who could take the seat.

Counters spent the day continuing with a fresh scrutiny of Saturday night's ballot papers, making a few very minor adjustments.

Returning officer Michael Averay said he had been told pre-poll and absentee votes had left Sydney yesterday and would be arriving this morning ahead of counting.

"There could be four to 5000 envelopes, but not all I will be able to admit," he said.

Mr Averay said there were also 4000 postal votes ready to count, which he had been waiting for clearance on.

He said he may not be able to declare the seat's winner until October 22 when all the postal votes are received.

"I can't decide until there are fewer votes out there than the gap between the two candidates," he said.

He said the lengthy process, scrutinised closely by major parties' scrutineers and the media, showed the fair and open nature of the election.

"It is all part of our job and makes sure the election process is fair and open to scrutiny," he said.

Meanwhile Prime Minister John Howard has said that the coalition's re-election showed an overwhelming majority backed plans to keep troops in Iraq.

Mr Howard said that while he did not believe Iraq was a major election issue, most people supported his view that Australia should stay in Iraq until the job was done.

The opposition also failed to turn the Iraq war into a major issue, despite its pledge to bring Australian troops home from Iraq by Christmas if it won government, he said.

"There was divided opinion in Australia on whether or not we should have gone into Iraq," Mr Howard said.

"But the overwhelming majority of Australians believe very strongly that having gone there, we should stay and finish the job.

"They rejected the notion of the premature withdrawal of our forces until their job has been completed.

"That is, of course, a view that I put very strongly," Mr Howard said.

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