Greens party backs Labor Party’s attempt to form minority Australian government

By Rod Mcguirk, AP
Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Greens party backs Australian Labor Party gov’t

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s Labor Party won the backing of a Greens party lawmaker Wednesday in its attempt to form the country’s first minority government in nearly seven decades, while other nonaligned legislators said they are close to deciding which party they will support.

Greens member Adam Bandt is the first of five lawmakers from outside the major parties to announce which side he will back following the Aug. 21 elections, which ended with no party winning a majority.

His support gives Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s center-left Labor Party control of 73 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives, the same as opposition leader Tony Abbott’s conservative Liberal Party-led coalition.

Labor ruled for three years until the elections and remains in charge of the caretaker government until Gillard or Abbott can strike a deal with independents to command 76 seats. If neither leader can command a majority, new elections will be called.

Gillard won Bandt’s support by agreeing to a range of Greens demands, including the formation of a committee to investigate how Australia could introduce a tax on greenhouse gas emissions and allowing a parliamentary debate on the future of Australia’s 1,550 troops in Afghanistan.

Bandt, who won his seat in last month’s elections, is the Greens’ only lawmaker in the House.

Still pivotal in the quest to rule are three rural independents who are all former members of a conservative party and are negotiating with the two sides as a bloc.

Gillard said she did not believe the early deal with the left-wing Greens would affect Labor’s chances of winning the support of the rural independents. She said she had forwarded each of the independents details of the pact.

“They understand that anybody seeking stable and effective government in these circumstances is going to be talking to a range of people,” Gillard told reporters.

Abbott said the Labor-Greens deal meant that a Labor government would impose a carbon tax on Australians, increase taxes on mining profits and reduce government funding for private schools.

“Clearly the Greens will be in the driver’s seat of any renewed Gillard government,” Abbott told reporters.

Abbott said he was having “good discussions” with the three independents in his bid to become prime minister. The three were being briefed by Treasury and Finance Department bureaucrats on Wednesday on how much the major parties’ competing election promises were likely to cost government coffers.

One of the trio, Bob Katter, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio on Wednesday he was “a hair’s breadth away” from making a decision.

An independent outside the bloc, Andrew Wilkie — who quit his job as a defense intelligence analyst in 2003 to protest the then-government’s explanation for sending 2,000 Australian troops to back U.S. and British forces in the Iraq invasion — said he had hoped to make a decision by Wednesday but now expects to take another day or two.

He described an offer made by Gillard for his support as unsatisfactory. Wilkie, a former Greens candidate, said he had yet received an offer from Abbott.

The environment-focused Greens were long considered the most likely to side with Labor because Abbott is opposed to making major polluters pay for the global-warming gases that they emit.

Australia has not had a minority government since 1943.

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