Ms Julia Gillard,
Prime Minister of Australia
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A smiling PM leads Labor government in name only
September 8, 2010 - The Age
THE uncomfortable irony surely has not been lost on the Gillard government: the Labor Party, which is so weakened that large segments of its own electoral base are simply marching away, holds on to office only because four men who have never been part of the ALP have decided to give it a bare parliamentary majority.
Labor's own supporters across Australia couldn't do it. Not even the hundreds of thousands of disaffected Labor people who now back the Greens could help the ALP over the line through their preferences. In the end, two ex-Nationals in Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, the ex-Liberal and ex-Green Andrew Wilkie, and the Marxist-turned-Green Adam Bandt have allowed the Gillard government to live again.
This is the foundation on which Australia's new national government is built. As Oakeshott said yesterday afternoon, the concept of a mandate is not operational in this parliamentary term. The voters made the judgment on August 21; the ongoing vote count between Labor and the Coalition is as close to 50-50 as you can get. Neither of the major parties could attract an endorsement from a majority of voters.
So the political system must now, in many important respects, rebuild itself. It will not be a wholesale rebirth. The viciousness, the personal attacks, the cheap shots, the hyperbole, the resentments, the glossing over of mistakes and uncomfortable facts - none of this will vanish. It will remain. Indeed, it's likely that the intensity of the 17 days between election day and yesterday's declaration of a result in Labor's favour will bring about even more heat in the contest between Labor and the Coalition.........
First cracks appear
Tom Arup, Katharine Murphy and Michelle Grattan
With NICK O'MALLEY - September 9, 2010 - Age
THE first cracks have appeared in the Gillard government's alliance with the crossbench MPs, with the Greens signalling they may side with the Coalition on some issues, and a country independent clashing with Treasurer Wayne Swan over the mining tax.
Less than 24 hours after Julia Gillard secured the last pledges of support needed to form government, Bob Brown raised the potentially destabilising prospect of the Greens working with the Coalition on legislation to boost mental health spending and to alter Labor's paid parental leave plan.
Senator Brown, whose party will have the balance of power in the Senate from July, also put the politically emotive issue of death duties on the agenda, suggesting next year's tax summit should consider the issue.
The spectre of a more assertive and powerful Greens came as the Prime Minister waited on Rob Oakeshott, one of two country independents propping up her government, to decide whether he will join her cabinet as a minister for regional Australia. He is seeking advice on whether the convention of cabinet solidarity can be changed so he could vote against a government bill outside his area.
As the difficulties became apparent, the opposition went on the attack. Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey said: ''If a newly married couple are arguing on day one, it doesn't augur too well for the rest of the marriage.''
Shadow attorney-general George Brandis said the government ''has as much legitimacy as the Pakistani cricket team''.
Amid the drama, Ms Gillard was preparing to reshape her ministry, which is now likely to include Kevin Rudd - whom she deposed earlier this year - as foreign minister. Mr Rudd's return to cabinet, which Ms Gillard has consistently promised, will further complicate her management challenge.
Senator Brown said the reality of the hung parliament was that the opposition could propose and pass legislation with the support of the Greens and independents, even if the government objected. ''This is part of the new paradigm,'' he said.
He nominated mental health and biosecurity as areas where the opposition and Greens shared similar policies.
Asked whether the Coalition and Greens could also combine to extend Labor's paid parental leave program, Senator Brown said the issue could be discussed with the government and opposition. ''There's good potential there for bipartite agreement for improving that legislation.''
Constitutional experts told The Age it was legally possible for the opposition to drive a legislative agenda, including bills that would require budget spending.
George Williams, of the University of New South Wales, said Tony Abbott's private member's bill to strike out Queensland's wild rivers laws was an example of legislation that, if passed, could be implemented without the support of the government.
The ability of the opposition to legislate will be enhanced by proposed rules allowing more private member's bills to be debated and voted on in the House of Representatives.
The opposition would need the support of WA National Tony Crook plus three independent or Greens MPs to pass legislation in the lower house.
Until July 1 next year the Coalition will only need the support of independent Nick Xenophon and Family First's Steve Fielding to pass bills in the Senate. After that it would need the support of the Greens.
Senator Xenophon said he was open to legislation from all sources, saying it should be judged on the quality of the idea, not its political shade.
The tax summit, part of the deal between Labor and two of the country independents, has given renewed impetus to criticism of the mining tax.
Yesterday morning Mr Swan signalled the mining tax would not be discussed at the summit, but later he said it might be. He said he was ''relaxed'' about this.
The switch came after Mr Oakeshott insisted the tax would be on the summit agenda, and Mr Windsor expressed surprise that Mr Swan thought otherwise.
After speaking with Mr Swan, Mr Windsor said the misunderstanding had been cleared up.
Opponents of the mining tax want to use the summit as a platform to reopen the debate.
Meanwhile, Heather Ridout of the Australian Industry Group said the business community did not want a hung parliament. ''We have a group of interests here that aren't necessarily always headed in the same direction,'' she said. But she said a more difficult reform process might actually improve any changes made.
She hoped the country independents would be a counterweight to the ''ambitious'' and less business-friendly ideas of the Greens.