As voters in the Goulburn electorate went to bed on Saturday night, there was still no official result for the seat.
Several news services and commentators had declared the Goulburn result in favour of the Liberal Party throughout the night, including Ms Goward's cabinet colleague Gladys Berijiklian who called the seat just a little after an hour into counting. But Ms Goward and Dr Stephens wanted to see the pre-poll results before officially declaring victory or defeat.
Pre-poll ballots for Goulburn this election represent the single biggest source of uncounted votes. An estimated 11,000 voters took advantage of pre-polling, making the pre-polled batch around five times the size of the single biggest booth in the electorate.
Despite a swing of around 19 per cent (as at 11pm) against her, indications on Saturday night were that Ms Goward would hang on to Goulburn by a much-reduced margin of around 7 per cent.
After individually thanking a long list of supporters their work and assistance in her campaign, a clearly emotional Ms Goward conceded that her margin had taken a hiding.
“It’s been a very big swing, but we started at an unrealistic level,” she told her followers at the Liberal campaign office in Auburn Street.
“We had a wonderful result in 2011. No-one could have expected that this funny little seat with all of its competing interests would ever be at 26%. And we got that in 2011.
“So understandably there was going to be what is known in the books as a correction but is otherwise known as a hiding.
“So we’ve had a hiding. We’ve had a hiding. But we’ve held the seat, I’m confident about that. I’d rather be in my position than anybody else’s.”
Ms Goward said a combination of boundary changes, coal mines at one end of the electorate, a proliferation of wind farms at the other end and a hard-working formidable Labor candidate had all combined to be a perfect storm that eroded her previous margin.
Just a few blocks away, Dr Stephens addressed ALP supporters at the Goulburn Club, and despite the tone and content of her speech she made it clear that she wasn't conceding, and felt her supporters had achieved something extraordinary regardless of the outcome.
"I’m really, really proud of all the work you’ve done in swinging this back to make it a really marginal seat and that’s exactly what will happen now," she said.
"There's still not 50 per cent of the vote counted but it does seem like we will fall short. We've got a swing somewhere between 20 and 22 per cent and we know we needed a swing of 26.8 per cent but we've done what we wanted to do - we've made this a marginal seat."
Dr Stephens said she believed her opponent would be cocky about the fact she had succesfully defended her seat but that the resurgence of the ALP locally had prepared them for what's ahead.
"That’s going to mean a really important role for us as Labor Party members and supporters… to keep her honest and to make sure that we build the momentum, and build on the strengths that we developed in the last six months and use those skills in the federal election campaign."
Ms Goward led the count in 37 booths at the end of counting on Saturday night, with Dr Stephens leading in four Goulburn booths (Bradfordville, Goulburn East, Goulburn Scout Hall, Goulburn Uniting) as well as Yass High. There was a dead heat in first preferences at St Joseph's.
As at midnight 29,923 of 53,960 first preference votes had been counted and the full list of votes is
- Goward 14,679 (48.94%)
- Stephens 10,043 (33.48%)
- Fyfe 2,527 (8.42%)
- Ashton 1,590 (5.30%)
- Van Der Byl 732 (2.44%)
- Fitzpatrick 424 (1.41%)
On a Two party preferred basis, 27,013 votes are counted and the split is:
- Goward 15,487 (57.33%)
- Stephens 11,526 (42.67%)