A conservative political leader has rejected key demands from three independent lawmakers who are likely to decide which party forms Australia’s next government after indecisive elections.
Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott, who heads the conservative opposition coalition, said on Thursday that he would not allow the Treasury Department to analyze what impact his election promises would have on the national budget.
Mr. Abbott told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio said that he had “no confidence in integrity of process” within Treasury. But he said the independents were welcome to see calculations by a private accounting firm commissioned by his party.
“We will be completely frank and candid with the independents,” said Mr. Abbott, adding that he had nothing to hide.
Independents Bob Katter, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott are likely to decide whether Mr. Abbott’s coalition or caretaker Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Labour Party forms a government after weekend elections failed to give any party a majority in the 150—seat House of Representatives for the first time in 70 years.
The independents opened negotiations with the two leaders on Wednesday and presented each with wish lists. Their top demand is for details of how much the competing election promises would cost the nation in areas including telecommunications, health and education.
Mr. Katter said Mr. Abbott’s “intransigence” in not allowing the Treasury to audit opposition promises was a blunder. Mr. Abbott did not mention his refusal during his nearly two—hour meeting with the independents, Mr. Katter said.
“If he looks so bad and has something to hide, it makes it much more difficult for us to give him the gong to become prime minister,” Mr. Katter told ABC television.
Mr. Windsor said Mr. Abbott’s stance was not a “deal breaker,” but damaged his argument of offering more stable leadership.
“People will start to cast a doubt on whether people trust Tony Abbott if, in fact, he won’t back his own promises up to independent scrutiny,” Mr. Windsor told Fairfax Radio Network on Thursday.
Mr. Oakeshott could not be immediately contacted for comment on Thursday.
The independents came under pressure from their own constituents to choose Mr. Abbott with a poll published in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph newspaper on Thursday showing 55 percent of voters in their three rural electoral divisions wanted a coalition government with the conservatives. Another 37 percent opposed such a government and eight percent were undecided.
The poll conducted by Sydney pollster Galaxy Research was based on a random telephone survey on Tuesday of 600 voters and had a 4 percentage point margin or error.
Mr. Katter disregarded the poll.
“Galaxy polling is not going to be deciding who’s the government of Australia,” Mr. Katter told reporters.
Ms. Gillard said on Wednesday she was inclined to release what cost projections of Labour promises were available, and was seeking advice from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. But as caretaker prime minister, she would also need Mr. Abbott’s authority to release such budget information.
But Mr. Abbott said he would not agree to alter the rules that caretaker governments must follow to allow confidential budget information to be released.
The Australian Electoral Commission preliminary counts updated on Thursday found Labour and the coalition each held 71 seats, with more than 80 percent of the vote counted. Three seats were undecided.
Keywords: Australia elections