Australian prime minister Julia Gillard has won the first major test of her new minority Labor government’s stability today with the election of her nominee for speaker of parliament.
However, her government's advantage over the opposition has now been effectively cut from two to one, given the speaker cannot vote in parliament unless there is a tie, underlining concerns the new government will not last its full three years. Conservative leader Tony Abbott wants to topple the government within the three-year term and with Labor holding only a one-seat majority, almost anything could end Ms Gillard's stay as Australia's first elected female leader.
Her biggest battles are still some time away, with a fine-tuning of Labor's planned 30 per cent mining tax still under way and draft laws not expected until December or early 2011. Moves for a carbon emissions price are not expected until 2012. Ms Gillard warned opposition politicians against disrupting Australia's first hung parliament since 1941. "This term of parliament is not an opportunity to re-fight the election, vote after vote, bill after bill," Ms Gillard said. "This is a time for consensus, not confrontation, debate not destruction."
Ms Gillard's government rests on the support of three independents and a Green parliamentarian, after a dead-heat August 21 election. Australia's politicians were sworn in on Tuesday after an indigenous ceremony on parliament's forecourt, where local Aboriginal elder Matilda House, wearing a cloak of possum skins, welcomed the MPs to Canberra. Labor MP Harry Jenkins was then elected unopposed as the new speaker, indicating Ms Gillard's control over the parliament.
But Labor cannot now not have a single parliamentarian absent for lower house votes, making it difficult for the government to last the full three years. Independent senator Nick Xenophon said he believed the new parliament could last a full term, as it was in the best interests of the government and independents to make it work. "I'm just hoping that the new paradigm won't turn into the old pantomime," Mr Xenophon told reporters.