By now I’m sure you’ve digested the news — the Australian federal parliament is pretty much as hung as it gets, with neither party set to govern in its own right. If the numbers stay as they are, the kingmakers would be the ‘gang of five’ on the crossbenches — comprising independents Bob Katter, Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Andrew Wilkie, as well as freshly-elected Greens member for Melbourne Adam Bandt.

So how does a minority government work? Crikey investigates what happens when a nation chooses to endorse neither of the major parties:

How will the numbers fall?

According to the ABC computer, there are three seats still in doubt, with Brisbane, Corangamite and Lindsay on a knife edge. If those seats fall as expected, the Coalition will have won 73 seats and the Labor Party 72, while the independents and Greens will hold five seats between them.

Which way will the gang of five vote?

Adam Bandt has already made it known that he would support the ALP should no single party be able form government, while ex-Green candidate Andrew Wilkie is expected to the same. Rob Oakeshott and Bob Katter — both former National state MPs — are expected to side with the Coalition as is Tony Windsor (also a former National member), but not before making the issues of their electorates a priority. This will leave a Coalition-led bloc on 76 votes in the house and support for a Labor government on 74.

Complicating the scenario slightly is Tony Crook from the independent Nationals WA, who could be another rogue on the cross benches after winning Wilson Tuckey’s seat of O’Connor.

The cross benches may look at a number of other measures when deciding their support, including the make up of the Senate or which party holds the majority of seats or primary votes. If the Independents are looking for stability, and a full three year term, then Gillard may be able to offer that in an alliance with the Greens, given that they have the balance of power in the Senate.

Have we had a federal hung parliament before?

Yes, but you have to go way back to 1940 when Robert Menzies’ UAP/Country coalition won 36 seats, the ALP won 32 seats and the Lang Labor breakaway party won four. Two independents originally chose to side with the conservatives, however political instability eventually saw them side with the ALP.

There were also state hung parliaments in the ACT in 2008 and Tasmania in 2010, with the Greens supporting a Labor government on both occasions.

How will a government be formed?

Negotiations are set to take place over the next few days to try and establish who the independents will support in minority government. That support could take the shape of a set deal to allow the passage of all legislation from a government or a loose agreement not to block supply. Roles in the ministry or as speaker may be bandied about to try and win over the swaying minds of the independents.

Once the major parties have determined which way the independents will direct their support, either Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott will visit the Governor-General with an eye to forming government.

What would the kingmakers want?

The independents have been at pains to state that the main objective of any negotiations would be stable government, however, in speaking with Crikey, the crossbenches made it clear that there are some burning issues that they want to see addressed. Tony Windsor from New England said his constituents were concerned about health services and education standards, while Bob Katter said that he wants to see more protection for industry, fewer restrictions on property rights and increased health services.

Rob Oakeshott echoed the sentiments of his fellow mavericks, saying that infrastructure, health services and education levels in regional areas needed drastic improvements. All three support the National Broadband Network. Meanwhile, Andrew Wilkie is a former Iraq war intelligence officer and Greens candidate, who has campaigned on a no pokies platform.

Adam Bandt has already pledged his support for the ALP, however he is still expected to make his voice heard on a number of issues, including climate change, asylum seekers and high speed rail.