Aus parties lobby independents

2010-08-23 12:15

Canberra - Leaders of Australia's two major political parties lobbied for support from independent lawmakers to stitch together the nation's first minority government since World War II after the closest elections in almost 50 years.

The final results of Saturday's vote may not be known for a week or more but both the Labour Party 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, told reporters on Sunday.

Both Gillard and Liberal leader Tony Abbott have initiated talks with three independents in the House of Representatives, as well as the Greens party, in a bid to secure votes in the House of Representatives. 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 on Monday the ruling 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.

Process at work

Independent lawmaker Tony Windsor said on Monday he hasn't 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 told Sky News television.

"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 with the other two independents, Rob Oakeshott and Bob Katter, in Canberra on Monday or Tuesday to discuss their preferences.

Gillard arrived in Canberra on Monday ahead of those talks. Oakeshott confirmed a newspaper report that Labour had already suggested making him a minister if he backed the party.

"Only very much jokingly; nothing formal," he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio on Monday of the ministry offer.

Greens kingmaker

No Australian government has had to rely on the support of independent lawmakers to rule since 1943.

Analyst Norman Abjorensen, an Australian National University political scientist, said the most likely outcome would be an unstable minority government led by Abbott and supported by the three independents.

The Greens' record support in the polls increased the party's Senate seats from five to nine, giving it the leverage to become kingmaker in deciding which major party controls the upper chamber.

Abbott - who doubts the science behind climate change and rules out ever taxing polluters for their greenhouse gas emissions - said the Labour government had proved unstable after Gillard ousted former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in a surprise internal party coup two months ago.

"It's certain that any Labour government emerging from yesterday will be chronically divided and dysfunctional," Abbott said.