Julia Gillard returns as Australian PM (Second Lead)By IANS
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
SYDNEY - Incumbent Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard Tuesday won the support of two independent MPs to reach the halfway mark in parliament and return to form a minority government, ending a 17-day political uncertainty in the country.
The independent MPs’ support gives Gillard, the country’s first woman prime minister, the narrowest of margins in the 150-member House of Representatives, bringing to 76 the number of parliamentarians willing to support Labor. The opposition Coalition led by Tony Abbott has 73 seats.
The Aug 21 election had produced Australia’s first hung parliament in 70 years.
Independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor announced their decisions to back Julia Gillard as prime minister, while Bob Katter said he was backing the Coalition, but indicated that his decision would have been different had Kevin Rudd still been the Labor leader.
All the three independent MPs met Gillard and Abbott Tuesday morning before they announced their decision.
Gillard later said her government will be held to higher standards of accountability as a result of the deal struck with the independents.
She thanked all the independents, including Bob Katter who decided to back the opposition Coalition, for the “tone and tenor” of their negotiations.
“So let’s draw back the curtains and let the sun shine in, let our parliament be more open than it was before,” Gillard was quoted as saying by The Age.
She also thanked Opposition Leader Tony Abbott for the “common courtesy” of telephoning her after Windsor and Oakeshott made clear they would back Labor.
“Ours will be a government with just one purpose, and that’s to serve the Australian people,” she said.
“We will be held to higher standards of transparency and reform and it’s in that spirit I approach the task of forming a government.”
She said she would be in a position early next week to swear in a new ministry.
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd would be offered a portfolio but she declined to say what it would be. “I gave Kevin Rudd a commitment that he would be a senior member of my ministerial team, a cabinet minister, as he will be.”
As part of the agreement with the independents, Gillard promised to give regional Australia “its fair share”.
“The next round of health and hospitals funding will be focused and dedicated to regional Australia,” she said.
The government will ensure its national broadband network will have “uniform wholesale prices across the country”, while regional Australia would also be given priority as the network rolls out.
Labor would govern in the best interests of the Australian people, Gillard said.
“I know that if we fail in this solemn responsibility, we will be judged harshly when we next face the Australian people at the next election.”