Julia Gillard will cling to power by the narrowest possible margin after the independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor opted to back Labor, giving her 76 votes, after Bob Katter backed the Coalition earlier this afternoon.
The price of power is a substantial regional development package and an as-yet-unspecified role for Oakeshott, who says he is contemplating an offer — presumably from Gillard — for a role either as speaker or minister in the new government.
The two independents emphasised the importance of the government’s national broadband network project, in particular, and stability offered in both the House of Representatives and the Senate following Labor’s deals with the Greens and independent Andrew Wilkie last week. They also indicated the importance of Labor seeming to be the party more likely to commit to a full parliamentary term.
Windsor announced his decision first, specifying the importance of the NBN, and calling for country voters to seize this moment of relative strength to try to change the focus of a two-party system that Windsor said was performing poorly and not serving rural communities.
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Oakeshott then followed with a long speech that tested the nerves of the attending journalists as he outlined the reasoning behind his decision, which he eventually announced was to support Labor. He also mentioned the importance of broadband, but also stressed the importance of regional and rural education, and specifically criticised the Coalition’s plan to cut funding to the school laptops program.
The decision brings to a close a dramatic post-election period of hung parliament in which both sides have courted the independents in a desperate bid to secure minority government. In the end, it appears that Kevin Rudd’s legacy was crucial to getting his assassin and successor Julia Gillard over the line.
The independents, including Bob Katter who indicated he will not support Labor, have won an array of new spending commitments from Labor as the price for their support. The spending includes:
- a $1.8b Health and Hospitals funding round for regional hospitals and a $500m Education Investment fund for regional schools
- a “Priority Regional Infrastructure Fund” of $800m ($600m over four years)
- a commitment to guaranteed 1/3 regional share of services in infrastructure and education funding
- faster work duplicating the Pacific Highway between Kempsey and Port Macquarie (electorate of Lyne) – $35m over 4 years
- Tamworth Hospital redevelopment – $20m (electorate of New England) – $20m
- a new Regional Development Policy Centre – $8m, likely to be a “centre” of about ten people
Amendments to ethanol tax arrangements, costing $140m, and a new Biofuels Research Institute in Townsville. Existing funding has also been prioritised to Bob Katter’s Copperstring project, the expansion of the Royal Hobart Hospital. $700m will be saved from delaying the commencement of the tax discount on interest income.