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Updated: September 7, 2010 09:23 IST

Election-weary Australians promised a new government

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Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. File Photo
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. File Photo

Australians should know on Tuesday whether Julia Gillard’s Labor or Tony Abbott’s conservatives will form a government, breaking a 17-day logjam that built up behind the inconclusive August 21 parliamentary election.

The three independents are expected to declare their support for either Ms. Gillard, who already commands 74 seats in the 150-member assembly, or Mr. Abbott, who has one fewer and so would need all three independents to get the 76-seat majority needed to form a government.

After 17 days of bargaining, it is still uncertain who the trio of Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Bob Katter will support -- or whether either side will be able to add all three to its tally.

Going with Ms. Gillard would give the first female prime minister a one-seat buffer, while siding with Mr. Abbott would give the former trainee priest the bare minimum to declare victory.

The three are all ex-Nationals, the junior party in Abbott’s Liberal-led conservative coalition, and represent rural electorates that usually vote for conservatives. But Nationals parliamentarian Barnaby Joyce fretted they would break ranks and side with Labour, arguing that they did so because its higher seat count gave it a better chance of hanging on in government for a full three-year term.

“It doesn’t feel as confident as it should,” Joyce said. “You see the issues that are going on and on and on, and you get a sense that the momentum is slipping away from us.” Windsor said his primary concern was to “put something in place that will last and work for a period of time,” and that this might mean one of the trio reluctantly siding with the two others to ensure all three seats go to one side.

“What we all want to avoid, and I think the community as well wants to avoid, is a 75-all draw, which would mean another election,” he said.

Opinion polling by public relations firm Parker and Partners found a majority of voters would like a fresh vote and the majority government that has prevailed for 70 years.

“The community appears frustrated that the government is being so publicly held hostage by a handful of vested interests,” Parker chief Sarah Cruikshank said.

Gillard, who risks leading only the second government defeated after just one term, and Abbott, who could end up with the political scalps of both Gillard and Kevin Rudd -- the prime minister she deposed in June -- are both middle-of-the-road politicians.

A change of government would have a marginal effect on foreign policy -- although the advent of minority government would mean Canberra becoming a diplomatic backwater.

Mr. Rudd travelled overseas 16 times in his first year in office and elevated Australia’s role on the world stage. Ms. Gillard or Mr. Abbott would be grounded by arithmetic.

Australian National University international relations specialist Hugh White presaged an obsession with staying at home to preserve the numbers in parliamentary votes.

“Australia will find it hard to make a big impact on the international stage,” he said, “firstly because of the point of sheer time as the management of any domestic political agenda is going to be much more complicated in policy terms and parliamentary terms.”

AP adds

Australian independent to support Liberal Party

Kingmaker independent lawmaker Bob Katter says he will support opposition leader Tony Abbott’s conservative coalition following inconclusive elections.

Mr. Katter’s announcement Tuesday takes the conservative Liberal Party to within two seats of forming a minority government. Independents Tony Windsor and Robb Oakeshott are expected to announce later Tuesday whether they’ll support the Liberals or Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s center-left Labour Party.

Mr. Abbott needs the support of Mr. Windsor and Mr. Oakeshott to gain a majority of 76 seats.

The Aug. 21 federal elections failed to deliver any party a majority for the first time since 1940.

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