Yesterday afternoon, two of the three undecided independent MPs (members of parliament) finally announced who was going to win Australia’s election held 18 days ago.
The two chose to partner with the left-wing Labor party, while the third broke away from the trio and chose to side with the opposition.
It was a rare opportunity for the independent politicians to greatly influence the direction of the next government, and they certainly milked it for everything they could on behalf of their rural voters.
As a result, Julia Gillard, head of the Labor party, will remain Australia’s prime minister and become their first ever elected female prime minister.
The two independents are Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, both from rural electoral districts in New South Wales. The third independent, who voted for the Tony Abbott-led opposition, was Bob Katter from Northern Queensland.
Representing the same interests of the previously neglected rural community, all three MPs joined forces in the negotiations with the two main parties – the left-wing Labor party and the right-wing ‘Coalition’ consisting of the Liberal party and the National Party of Australia.
After all the election votes were counted, Labor finished up with 72 seats and the Coalition with 73. However, Labor also secured the support of sole Green party MP Adam Bandt and the fourth independent MP Andrew Wilkie from Tasmania.
Needing 76 seats to govern with a majority in the 150-seat House of Representatives, it was up to the three remaining independents to decide which main party would form the next government.
The three-week negotiations were extremely tight, with Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott reportedly still undecided yesterday morning.
Had two of the three supported the Coalition, it would have been a 75-75 draw, forcing the government to hold another election.
Now that the announcement has been made, Julia Gillard and her Labor party, along with the three independents and lone Green MP will begin forming the key positions in the next government (of which Rob Oakeshott will likely be regional minister).
Windsor made it clear in his speech that the defining factor in his decision was Labor’s broadband policy which will deliver a AU$43 billion high-speed fibre-optic broadband network across Australia.
The coalition was proposing a cheaper, slower version that would have meant lower quality internet access for rural residents.
He also stated that renewable energy – more favoured by Labor – represented serious opportunities for rural Australia.
Oakeshott, in a long, drawn-out explanation before announcing his decision, stated that his priorities were for stability in government (Labor has more support in the Senate, the second law-making house) and for beneficial outcomes.
Those outcomes included broadband and climate changes opportunities, and more funding for rural healthcare and education which Oakeshott said had been woefully neglected over the last 15 years.
Both he and Windsor made the point that country people felt they had been ignored or taken for granted by the two main parties since the National Party (formerly the Country Party) chose to align itself with the Liberals in the Coalition.
They said that election campaigning had subsequently become focussed on the needs of those living in city suburbs because that was where the swing voters lived.
As a result, Windsor and Oakeshott said regional voters must support a new era of non-allegiance if they want their interests to be taken seriously by the two main parties in the future.
Labor will be leading the first minority government since World War II, meaning they will need the support of all four of their non-Labor MPs if they are to getting any laws passed.
Such rare territory for the Australian government could result in deadlock, pragmatic compromise or a mix of both, as indicated by Oakeshott in his address.
But at least Australians and Australian businesses now have certainty about who will be leading their country for the next three years and what sort of new laws and policies they can expect.
And with an estimated $10 billion total package coming their way, there’s no doubt that the true winners of the election are Australia’s regional communities, who as Oakeshott said, finally deserve some “equity”, or fairness in how government resources are allocated.
By The Casual Truth
Photo – The three undecided independent MPs (from left) Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Bob Katter.