Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Finally an Oz government to talk about!!

Labor over the line: Windsor and Oakeshott hand power to Gillard

Julia Gillard has just scraped back into office as Prime Minister after the independent MPs Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott announced they would support Labor to form a minority government. The two independents just announced their decision at a press conference in Parliament House in Canberra. Their support will give Ms Gillard the narrowest of margins in the 150-member House of Representatives, bringing to 76 the number of MPs willing to support a minority Labor government.

The pair gave a joint press conference, but announced their decisions separately - and in the case of Mr Oakeshott, at great length - adding to the suspense of two and a half weeks of national political limbo. Mr Windsor said providing stability for the country had been a key factor in his decision. "If a government is formed, how long could it last and that is a key deliberation in our view," Mr Windsor said. "I make this plea to country people, some of whom don't agree with the Labor party. This isn't about philosophy, philosophy in terms of both these parties died about a decade ago," Mr Windsor said. "This is about using the political system to advance the people we represent and those people in regional Australia."

Mr Windsor also cited Labor's National Broadband Network as a "critical" reason for his backing. "There’s an enormous opportunity for regional Australians to engage with the infrastructure of this century and ... I thought (that) was too good an opportunity to miss," he said. "You do it once you do it right and you do it with fibre."

Mr Oakeshott, in a lengthy justification for his support, said it was "not a mandate for any one government, nor was it an endorsement". He said it had been "an absolute line ball, points decision, judgement call." "Australia is engaged but Australia is also divided," Mr Oakeshott said. He said the independents had secured a deal with Labor to promote regional development and to hold a tax reform summit. Labor's position on broadband and climate change had also been important factors in his decision. Mr Oakeshott revealed that both Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott had made him an offer of a position in return for his support. He would not say whether the position was as Speaker of the House of Representatives or to serve as a Minister. Mr Oakeshott would not give any more details of the offer and said he would need to talk to his family before deciding whether to accept. "That is an offer that has been made - it is separate to any considerations whatsoever [about which side to support]."

Mr Windsor revealed the final decision was made in the early hours of this morning. "We talked through a range of issues and I think it was probably 1.30am (AEST) that we actually reached a decision," he said. "In the end I think for both of us ... we’ve both lived our political lives being able to sleep at night. In the end it came to me that I thought, I’m comfortable with this, I can live with this." The Prime Minister Julia Gillard has just scheduled a news conference at 4.15 pm at Parliament House.

The historic decision comes after intense wall-to-wall negotiations between the country independents and Ms Gillard, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, ministers, "shadows" and officials. It brings a welcome end to the impasse which has meant the continuation of a "caretaker" situation well beyond the election - and a lack of capacity for substantive decisions to be made. This is Australia's first hung parliament since the 1940s.

Katter splits, but may switch sides

Earlier this afternoon, the impasse took an extraordinary turn with Queensland independent Bob Katter calling a press conference to announce his decision ahead of fellow independents Mr Oakeshott and Mr Windsor. While he announced he would support the Coalition in a minority government, the Queensland independent also indicated he could switch sides in the interests of stability. "I would put it to you this way: I would most certainly see a moral responsibility to look at the issue of stability," he said. Despite promises that today's result will bring stability, the House of Representatives will be difficult to manage, with the fate of legislation an item-by-item proposition.

The independents insist the arrangement will give scope for more flexibility and consensus than we have previously seen. But critics fear it will be difficult for the government to be able to do much at all, let alone take hard decisions and drive reform. While the three country independents made the final decision on who would form government, a total of six cross-bench MPs will determine the fate of bills in the House. The others are the Greens' Adam Bandt, Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie and WA National Tony Crook. The deals the various independents have done only relate to matters of supply and confidence motions - they do not bind these MPs on ordinary legislation.

The fortnight of haggling has brought a plan for dramatic change in how the House of Representatives works, including a tighter, more stream-lined question time, a more independent speaker and the prospect of conscience votes on private members bills on controversial subjects including gay marriage. The country independents put more effort into winning changes in process - including how the Parliament works and putting regional Australia closer to the centre of decision-making - than into obtaining "pork" for their own electorates. But they can be confident that "pork" will flow over the time ahead, not least because the uncertainty on legislation means the wooing can't stop now.

Both Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott have devoted their full attention, and many hours, to listening to and trying to accommodate the country trio over the past fortnight. With the skill of poker players, the country independents kept both sides guessing right up until yesterday. They were tough, polite but enigmatic in their public utterances and private discussions, a strategy designed to extract most from either side. Their initial decision to act as a group, despite their diversity, strengthened their hands. They have won praise from both sides. But their decision will now sharply separate their friends and their foes.

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