Gillard to form minority government in Australia

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The Independent Online

Prime Minister Julia Gillard's center-left Labor Party will form a minority government to rule Australia for a second three-year term, after two independent lawmakers joined her coalition Tuesday in the interest of stable government.

The decision by Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott gives Gillard's party control of 76 seats in the 150-seat House or Representatives and avoids the need for another round of polls, following inconclusive elections late last month.

It also means Gillard can continue with her plans to introduce a 30 percent tax on iron ore and coal miners' burgeoning profits and make Australia's biggest polluters pay for carbon gas emissions.

Abbott's coalition won 73 seats and another independent, Bob Katter, announced earlier Tuesday that he preferred Abbott as prime minister, partly because he opposed the mining and carbon tax plans.

Aug. 21 elections were the first since 1940 to fail to deliver a clear winner.

Windsor and Oakeshott, who have both championed better communications infrastructure for rural areas, said Labor's plan to introduce a 43 billion Australian dollar ($38 billion) high-speed optical fiber national broadband network was a major factor in their decision.

Abbott's Liberal Party had promised a smaller, slower AU$6 billion network with a range of technologies including optical fiber, wireless and DSL.

"What this is, is a hard decision," Oakeshott told reporters in announcing his decision. "There's no question about that. And on my end, it has been an absolute line-ball, points decision, judgment call, six of one, half dozen of the other. This could not get any closer," he added.

Windsor said he believed that Gillard was more likely than Abbott to work constructively with the independents and govern for a full three-year term rather than call an early election.

During intense negotiations with the independents, both Gillard and Abbott had promised that, if they could form a minority government, they would not later call an early election in the hope of winning an outright majority.

Labor won only 72 seats but has enlisted the support of a lawmaker from the Greens party plus three independents.

Liberal Party lawmakers argue that the Greens' influence will make the Labor minority government Australia's most left wing government in years.