Now Australia gets a taste of hung parliaments

Australia faces an almost unprecedented period of political uncertainty, after the tightest election in decades failed to produce a clear winner and left the two main parties courting a handful of independent and Green MPs.

A handful of seats will remain in doubt for several days, but it was clear within hours of the polls closing that neither Julia Gillard's ruling Labor Party nor Tony Abbott's conservative Coalition could secure a majority in the House of Representatives. The two leaders scrambled yesterday to sweet-talk the four independents and one Green MP who could help them form a minority government.

Not since 1940 has Australia had a hung parliament at national level, and political analysts say the limbo could continue for up to a fortnight. During that time, postal and early votes will be counted, and the horse-trading will continue. If no deal is struck, there would have to be fresh elections. That is widely regarded as unlikely, but observers say any minority government will probably be short-lived: it would either become paralysed, or the ruling party would call an election to seek a stronger mandate as soon as its poll ratings lifted. David Burchell, of the University of Western Sydney, described a hung parliament as the "nightmare scenario we all feared", and predicted a minority government would last no longer than 18 months.

"Neither [party] will be able to pass a significant body of legislation other than budget Bills," he said. "They would have to be negotiating with the independents and minorities – or most of them – probably every single time, and Los Angeles-style gridlock is what would result."

The election outcome was a slap in the face for Labor, which dumped its leader, Kevin Rudd, two months ago after a plunge in popularity. Two-thirds of its losses were to the Greens, a reflection of voter anger at Labor for shelving an emissions trading scheme. The Greens won their first seat in the House of Representatives and will also control the balance of power in the Senate, the upper house.

Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott each claimed to have a superior right to lead a minority government. The former noted that Labor had won the popular vote, which she said was "a critical factor to weigh in the coming days".

But Mr Abbott said the "savage swing" against Labor – 5.4 per cent nationally – was evidence that Australians wanted a change of government. "It's certain that any Labor government will be chronically divided and dysfunctional," he said.

Their respective fates are now in the hands of a disparate group of politicians who would normally wield little influence in parliament. And while the Greens' MP, Adam Bandt, has already indicated a preference for Labor, three of the independents (who all represent rural constituencies) come from conservative backgrounds, though analysts say they could jump either way.

Yet to be confirmed, but apparently heading for victory in his Tasmania seat, is a fourth independent, Andrew Wilkie, who resigned as an intelligence analyst before the Iraq war, then publicly accused the government of misrepresenting intelligence relating to weapons of mass destruction in order to justify joining the Coalition of the Willing. He has previously stood twice for the Greens.

With nearly 80 per cent of the vote counted, Labor had 72 seats in the 150-member House, while the Coalition had 70 and was expected to gain two more.

Having scored a historic victory in 2007, when it ended 11 years of conservative rule, Labor's is the first government since 1931 to fail to win a second-term majority.

The biggest swings against it were in New South Wales and Queensland, both of which have unpopular state Labor governments. In the latter, some losses were attributed to sympathy for Mr Rudd, a Queenslander.

The three independents already re-elected held talks yesterday, and indicated that they would throw their combined weight behind one party or the other. "We get on well together, we work closely together, we have similar backgrounds," Bob Katter, a veteran Queensland MP, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. But none of them gave a hint as to which party that might be.

Peter Costello, a former senior Coalition politician, warned: "It's quite possible, with an unstable situation like this, that we could be back to the polls within a year." However, others pointed out that Australia's states and territories had considerable experience of stable minority governments.

The outback king-maker

*Among those set to determine who governs Australia is Bob Katter, a maverick Queenslander who ridicules the notion of climate change, has never used a computer and roams his 500,000sq km Outback constituency wearing a large white Stetson.

He shares his rural background with other independents likely to play important roles as king-makers in the coming days. A popular MP in his north Queensland electorate for nearly 20 years, Mr Katter calls himself "a wild boy from wild country". He is an outspoken advocate for rural Australia, which often feels neglected by policy-makers in Canberra. Mr Katter opposes the import of cheap bananas and beef, and would like to see agricultural subsidies and tariffs reinstated. He dislikes supermarkets, asylum-seekers and gay people.

A diehard climate change sceptic, Mr Katter declared last year, somewhat mystifyingly: "I mean, if you could imagine 20 or 30 crocodiles up there on the roof, and if all that roof was illumination, and saying that we wouldn't see anything in this room because of a few croco-roaches up there. Are you telling me seriously that the world is going to warm because there's 400 parts per million of CO2 up there?"

Mr Katter has joked that rodeos were cruel to the riders, not the animals. He also bemoaned the erosion of freedoms, saying: "Can't go fishing, can't go shooting, can't go hunting, can't – I found out the other day – I can't boil the billy [kettle]."

He says he works well with the other independents and indicated they would throw their weight behind one party.

people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionPart of 'best-selling' Demeter scent range
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Deputy Education Manager

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Deputy Education Manager (permanent ...

Science Teacher Urgently required for October start

£6720 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently recr...

ICT Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Group: We are looking for an outstandi...

Art & Design Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Group: We are looking for an outstandi...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering