Australia’s Labour Party won the backing of a Greens party politician today in its bid to form the country’s first minority government in nearly seven decades, while other independents said they were close to deciding which party they would support.
Greens member Adam Bandt is the first of five politicians from outside the major parties to announce which side he will back following the August 21 elections, which ended with no party winning a majority.
His support gives Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s centre-left Labour Party control of 73 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives, the same as opposition leader Tony Abbott’s conservative Liberal Party-led coalition.
Labour ruled for three years until the elections and remains in charge of the caretaker government until Ms Gillard or Mr Abbott can strike a deal with independents to command 76 seats. If neither leader can command a majority, new elections will be called.
Ms Gillard won Mr Bandt’s support by agreeing to a range of Greens demands, including the formation of a committee to investigate how Australia could introduce a tax on greenhouse gas emissions and allowing a parliamentary debate on the future of Australia’s 1,550 troops in Afghanistan.
Mr Bandt, who won his seat in last month’s elections, is the Greens’ only representative in the House.
Still pivotal in the quest to rule are three rural independents who are all former members of a conservative party and are negotiating with the two sides as a bloc.
Ms Gillard said she did not believe the early deal with the left-wing Greens would affect Labour’s chances of winning the support of the rural independents. She said she had forwarded each of the independents details of the pact.
“They understand that anybody seeking stable and effective government in these circumstances is going to be talking to a range of people,” she told reporters.
Mr Abbott said the Labour-Greens deal meant that a Labour government would impose a carbon tax on Australians, increase taxes on mining profits and reduce government funding for private schools.
“Clearly the Greens will be in the driver’s seat of any renewed Gillard government,” he told reporters.
Mr Abbott said he was having “good discussions” with the three independents in his bid to become prime minister. The three were being briefed by Treasury and Finance Department bureaucrats today on how much the major parties’ competing election promises were likely to cost government coffers.
One of the trio, Bob Katter, told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio today that he was “a hair’s breadth away” from making a decision.
An independent outside the bloc, Andrew Wilkie – who quit his job as a defence intelligence analyst in 2003 to protest at the then-government’s explanation for sending 2,000 Australian troops to back US and British forces in the Iraq invasion – said he had hoped to make a decision by today but now expects to take another day or two.
He described an offer made by Ms Gillard for his support as unsatisfactory. Mr Wilkie, a former Greens candidate, said he had not yet received an offer from Mr Abbott.
The environment-focused Greens were long considered the most likely to side with Labour because Mr Abbott is opposed to making major polluters pay for the global-warming gases that they emit.
Australia has not had a minority government since 1943.