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Australia: Labor's PM Gillard retains power

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 07 September 2010

Julia Gillard will stay as Australian Prime Minister and form a minority government, as the Labor party is backed by two key independent MPs. Channel 4 News analyses how broadband speeds helped swing the result.

Julia Gillard will stay as Australian Prime Minister and form a minority government (Getty)

The Australian prime minister retained power by a one-seat majority after more than two weeks of political deadlock following an indecisive election result.

Independent MPs Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott announced their backing for the prime minister today, while a third, Bob Katter, backed opposition leader Tony Abbott.

Gillard said she was aiming to lead a stable minority government - Australia's first since the Second World War.

"Labor is prepared to govern," she told a news conference at parliament.

"Labor is prepared to deliver stable, effective and secure government for the next three years."

The country's first woman leader took power from Kevin Rudd in an internal party coup in June and announced a national election three weeks later.

"I will ... give confidence and supply to government, and in effect that means confidence and supply in Julia Gillard," said independent Rob Oakeshott, the last MP to declare his support.

"Unless, and I emphasise unless, exceptional circumstances determine otherwise," he added, warning he could vote against Gillard's Labor party in the event of any maladministration or corruption.

The announcement comes after furious negotiations between MPs after the August elections produced the first hung parliament in 70 years.

Gillard ended with 76 seats in the 150-seat parliament, with Abbott's Liberal/National coalition on 74, the closest possible margin.

Broadband speed swings election result
It became the roller-coaster election that lasted almost three weeks, writes Andrew Thomas.

The future of Australia, a country used to overnight election results and strong majority governments, in the balance for 17 days. Two party leaders struggling to get the numbers to push their party over the finish line.

What swung it in the end? Broadband speed.

The 21 August election had seen an ever deader-heat that Britain's three month's before. Having ousted her predecessor as Labor Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, in June, Julia Gillard had plumped for a snap winter election expecting to ride a honeymoon in the polls. That tactic backfired.

Leaks suggesting disunity in her party, and a stronger than expected performance from the Liberal party leader Tony Abbott - more famous for his 'budgie smuggler' swimsuit than his policies - led to stalemate at the polls.

In a 150 seat House of Representatives - with 76 needed to win a majority - Labour secured 72, the Liberal/National party 73. The Greens won a single seat and swiftly used it to back Labor. That left four independents holding the balance of power.

National attention fixed on them as the both parties tried desperately to woo them. The four played a high stakes game: back the ultimate winner and expect huge rewards; back the loser and get nothing.

Having played off the two parties for a fortnight, the MP for Tasmania's Denison became the first to declare: in early September he backed Labor after Julia Gillard promised him hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild a local hospital.

That left the balance of power with three independents: Labor needed two to win, the Liberals all three. A two-one split to the Liberals would produce an absolute dead heat.

Overnight last night, - early afternoon Tuesday Australian time - the stakes were raised when the first of the independents declared for the Liberal/National party, leaving both sides on 74. The remaining two independents called a press conference a few hours later at which one quickly declared for Labor.

Whether there would be a Labor government, or whether there would be an unprecedented 75-75 split then came down to the previously undistinguished independent member for the Division of Lyne, New South Wales.

For twenty nail-biting minutes Mr Oakeshott kept reporters, and the country, guessing. In a meandering speech he laid out the reasoning for his "points decision" . . . to back Julia Gillard and what will become a Labor minority government.

One reason he gave was a strong commitment from Labor to deliver better communications infrastructure to rural areas. Labor have promised an A$43bn (£25.6bn) high-speed optical fibre national broadband network; Tony Abbott offered a slower A$6bn network.

By the narrowest of margins, then, Australians have elected a female Prime Minister for the first time. How long her government can last will depend now on how carefully she handles her new, hard-fought-for allies.

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