Australian prime minister contenders promise 3 kingmaker lawmakers to govern for full 3 years

By Rod Mcguirk, AP
Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Australian PM contenders promise no early election

CANBERRA, Australia — The contenders to become Australia’s next prime minister each promised Wednesday to govern for a full term if three key independent lawmakers support their competing parties to form an administration after indecisive elections.

The independents are likely to decide whether Julia Gillard’s Labor Party or opposition leader Tony Abbott’s Liberal Party-led coalition forms a government after elections failed to give any party a majority in the 150-seat House of Representatives for the first time in 70 years.

Independents Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Bob Katter opened negotiations with the two leaders on Wednesday and presented each with wish lists including a demand for a pledge to govern for the full three years. A prime minister might be tempted to call early elections as soon as opinion polls showed a chance of winning a majority.

Gillard qualified her pledge, saying that a by-election due to a government lawmaker becoming sick could be enough to bring down a minority administration.

“If I was the incoming prime minister, out of this process, to the extent that I could control it, my guarantee to go full term is unequivocal,” Gillard told reporters.

Conservative opposition leader Abbott said he told the independents “there would be no election prior to August 2013, should I become prime minister.”

The independents say their top demand is for details of how much the competing election promises would cost the nation in areas including telecommunications, health and education.

Gillard said she was inclined to release what costings were available, and was seeking advice from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. But as caretaker prime minister, she would also need Abbott’s authority to release such budget information. Abbott said he wanted to see Gillard’s advice before agreeing.

Abbott has not agreed to the independents’ request that he submit his election promises to the Treasury Department to be officially costed. But he said the independents were welcome to see calculations by a private accounting firm commissioned by his party.

“I will approach these discussions in a spirit of complete and total candor, because I believe we have good policies,” Abbott told reporters.

Labor, which has governed for the past three years, and the opposition coalition accused each other during the five-week campaign of understating the costs of their own promises.

Windsor said most of the budget costs revealed to the independents should be made public, except in sensitive areas including defense.

The three independents have expressed preference for Labor’s promise to build a 43 billion Australian dollar ($38 billion) high-speed optical fiber national broadband network, a major election proposal. The Liberals would build a smaller, slower AU$6 billion network with a range of technologies including optical fiber, wireless and DSL.

Windsor said he suspected that the Labor price tag was “a fictitious number,” and wanted to uncover the true cost.

He also gave in-principle support for Labor’s plan to place a 30 percent tax on iron ore and coal miners’ burgeoning profits, which is expected to raise an additional AU$10.5 billion in tax revenue. The Liberals have vowed to oppose the tax, a stance Windsor said was based on political rather than economic reasons.

The kingmaker independents have promised to support whoever best offers stable government, but say a final deal cannot be struck until after final vote counts, which could come late next week.

Adam Bandt, the only lawmaker from the environment-focused Greens party to win a seat in the lower house, said he proposed supporting Labor. But he wanted the next government to allow gay marriage and to make polluters pay for their carbon gas pollution.

The major parties oppose gay marriage. The Liberals oppose any carbon tax, while Labor wants a tax but not in the next three-year term.

The Greens oppose Australia having 1,550 troops in Afghanistan and want them withdrawn. Greens leader Sen. Bob Brown has said since his party emerged from the election with Bandt and an additional four senators who greatly increase the Greens’ influence that he wants parliament to debate the deployment soon.

An Australian soldier was killed Tuesday in a clash with Taliban insurgents. He was the 21st Australian to die in the Afghanistan campaign.

Gillard and Abbott said they did not object to parliamentary debate on Afghanistan, but remained committed to the Australian mission there.

The Australian Electoral Commission preliminary counts updated Wednesday found Labor and the coalition each held 71 seats, with more than 79 percent of the vote counted. Three seats were undecided.

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