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Aus: Parties woo independents to form govt

August 23, 2010 19:52 IST

Australia's two main parties scrambled to woo three independent lawmakers, who have emerged as 'king-makers,' to cobble up the country's first minority government since World War II. With a cliffhanger election delivering a hung parliament for the first time in 70 years, both Labor leader Julia Gillard, and Conservative Tony Abott were lobbying for support of three independents and a Green lawmaker.

As Labor and the opposition Liberal-National party coalition were projected to win 73 seats each in the 150-seat parliament, the three independents, Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Bob Katter have virtually become kingmakers. The three parliamentarians who have past ties with Abott's party in their first comment after the polls, said they were ready to stand shoulder to shoulder to produce a stable government, but kept their alliance options open.

Experts warned that the nation's future could hang in balance for weeks or months, leaving stock and currency markets, in a flux. Prime Minister Gillard who came to power after deposing Labor's elected prime minister Kevin Rudd in a party coup, despite the setbacks vowed to retain a controversial tax on mining if she succeeds in forming a government.

Claiming she had entered into a breakthrough agreement with Australian mining giants about the mineral resource tax, Gillard said she will be honouring the agreement. The mining tax could emerge as a tool of tilting the balance as Abott has promised to scrap the levy if he becomes the prime minister. Officials are still counting two million postal and absentee votes, a process which could take 10 days to two weeks.

Both Gillard and Abott have opened negotiations with the three key independents but both did not divulge what they had offered to them. For the punters, the bet is on Labor to emerge as favourites to form the government. Gillard said she was not prepared to discuss publicly what she was willing to do to gain support for her government. "I'm not going to play games of ruling things in and ruling things out," she said, while assuring transparency once a deal was negotiated.

Even as Abbott maintained a low profile, Labor insisted it had the mandate to govern because it had won the popular vote.

Three other important players in these uncertain times are Andrew Wilkie, an independent who may still win the seat of Denison from Labor, the Australian Greens' Adam Bandt, who snatched Melbourne from the government, and WA Nationals giant-slayer Tony Crook, who ousted Liberal veteran Wilson Tuckey. Bandt has signalled he's more inclined to work with Labor, while Wilkie would be willing to talk to both Labor and the coalition.

While Crook comes from the conservative side of politics, he has indicated he is considering sitting on the crossbenches and would entertain working with Labor - if it abandoned the mining tax. Crook declared that was a "major stumbling block" to him supporting a minority Labor government. "We wanted no mining tax," he said.

"To that end it's very likely we're not going to be talking to Gillard". Apart from this, Governor-General Quentin Bryce reportedly confirmed that she was seeking advice relating to concerns about her family connection to Labor powerbroker Bill Shorten, who is married to her daughter Chloe. Labor will need to show the governor-general it can command a majority on the floor of the parliament's lower house to win her approval for a minority government. In a statement posted on the governor-general's website, her office said: "The governor-general is seeking advice on concerns raised about her personal position in the current political circumstances".

Natasha Chaku in Melbourne
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