Unattached MPs hold key in Australia’s new parliament

August 23rd, 2010 - 5:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Melbourne, Aug 23 (IANS) The ruling Labor Party and the opposition coalition Monday rushed to win the support of three independents and a Greens MP crucial to form Australia’s new government after the electorate threw up a hung parliament.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott reached Canberra to join battle over who will form a minority government with independent MPs.

Three seats — Hasluck in Western Australia, Dunkley in Victoria and Boothby in South Australia — were Monday deemed by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) as “close”.

With Hasluck still in play, Labor nominally holds 73 seats and the Coalition 72 of the 150 seats in parliament’s lower house, according to The Age.

The Liberals lead in Hasluck, and should they win the lower house would be tied 73-73 between the major parties. This means support of three independents and an Australian Greens MP would be crucial in the government formation.

Both the Labor and the conservative coalition are fighting for the support of the three independents — Bob Katter from Queensland, and Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott from New South Wales.

The Greens’ Adam Bandt, who notched a historic win in Melbourne, is expected to side with Labor.

Another seat to watch is Dunkley, in Melbourne’s south, which was Monday moved to the AEC’s “close” list after 200 votes were discovered in the wrong party’s pile.

The Adelaide seat of Boothby was also deemed “close” by the AEC, with the Labor’s Annabel Digance now within 670 votes of the Liberals’ Andrew Southcott.

Among other close seats, Brisbane was forecast by the AEC to be won by the Liberal National Party’s Teresa Gambaro, unseating Labor MP Arch Bevis.

Denison, in Tasmania, was also close, but the Hobart seat was predicted as a Labor win by the AEC, seemingly dashing the hopes of high-profile independent Andrew Wilkie.

While both seats were moved from the AEC’s “close seats” list to seats “won”, its website notes that results can change and the seat has not been officially declared.

A spokesman for the Labor candidate in Denison, Jonathon Jackson, said he considered the seat too tight to call, with two-party preferred counting still in its early stages.

Tony Burke, the Gillard government’s Minister for Sustainable Population, Monday said he beleives Katter, Oakeshott and Windsor will reach a deal to form a stable government.

“I’d be loath to prejudge which way they’ll go,” Burke told the ABC today.

“But I’m very confident they’ll make the decision calmly and responsibly and they have a genuine concern about making sure that whoever forms government forms a stable one.

“Now I may end up being entirely unhappy with the decision they make - I hope I’m not - but I certainly have a fair degree of confidence that they’ll make the decision responsibly.”

Asked if he expected voters to be back at the polls soon, he said: “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Earlier Monday, Oakeshott said the three independents wanted to reach an agreement that guaranteed stable government, but “If we can’t get that, let’s go back to the ballot box”.

Oakeshott laughed off suggestions he had been offered a ministry in return for supporting a minority Labor government. “Only very much jokingly, nothing formal,” he told ABC Radio.

Oakeshott said the hung parliament dilemma was “not about political parties any more”.

“If this stays about political parties, about an either-or choice about the red tribe or the blue tribe, it won’t work and we will have to go back to the ballot box,” he said.

The independent MPS were trying to fix a timetable for negotiations by Monday, he said. But it could take two weeks to finalise any deal.

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