Scenarios: Where now for Australia’s hung parliament?

By James Grubel

CANBERRA (BestGrowthStock) – Australia is headed for its first hung parliament since World War II after the country’s main political parties failed to secure a clear majority in a national election on Saturday.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott will now need to negotiate support with three rural independents and one Green MP, and possibly a fourth independent from Tasmania, to form the new government.

Gillard, who became prime minister on June 24 when she toppled former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in a party coup, will remain caretaker until election officials clarify the results in the 150 lower house seats, and until a new government is formed.

Here are some of the possible outcomes:

GILLARD OR ABBOTT WIN AN OUTRIGHT MAJORITY

Probability: Unlikely.

To win outright, a party needs 76 of the 150 lower house seats.

The Labor government’s senior strategist believes Gillard will win 71 seats and as many as 74 seats in a best case scenario. The opposition says it has won 69 seats, but could end up with as many as 76 in a best case scenario, which would deliver government to Tony Abbott. But that outcome is highly unlikely and both parties seem set to be one or two seats short of an overall majority.

GILLARD FORMS DEAL WITH INDEPENDENTS

PROBABILITY: Most likely.

Gillard said on Sunday that she has already held talks with the Green party leader Senator Bob Brown, but that further talks would occur. She suffered a major voter backlash, but the ruling Labor Party still attracted just over 50 percent of the vote, giving it an argument to put to independents that it should stay in power. The new Green MP in Melbourne has said he would prefer a Labor government, while Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie, who could be the fourth independent, was a former Green supporter who would also likely lean toward Labor. Wilkie was a former intelligence whistleblower in 2003 who had a famous feud with John Howard’s conservatives over the war in Iraq. So Gillard would be confident she could woo at least two crossbenchers.

Gillard would also have a strong chance of forging a deal with some of the remaining three independents. Tony Windsor has a strong record of being a true independent in parliament. His New South Wales colleague Rob Oakeshott is also a strong independent, who appears to favor Labor policies on broadband and climate. Both said they want stable government, but they would also support the party that delivers most for rural Australia. The third independent, Bob Katter, is considered a maverick MP. A former National Party lawmaker, Katter has no great love for his old party and says he has friends on both sides of parliament.

ABBOTT FORMS GOVERNMENT WITH INDEPENDENTS

PROBABILITY: Highly possible.

Abbott is within striking distance of forming government, and if the final votes fall in his favor, he could convince the independents to join his side. But he will not win support from the Green MP, and Tasmanian Andrew Wilkie is no fan of the conservatives, who attempted to discredit him over leaked intelligence material on Iraq’s pre-war weapons of mass destruction. The remaining three independents all represent regional seats, which would normally be allied to the conservative side of politics. The three independents have said they would enter negotiations with “a blank sheet of paper.” However, two of those independents are wary of Abbott’s plans to abandon a $38 billion national broadband network. Abbott will need to convince them he can deliver policies that benefit rural Australians. Abbott said he would hold talks with independents in coming days and Greens party leader Senator Bob Brown, who has already met PM Gillard, said he would also talk to Abbott.

POLITICAL DEADLOCK, FRESH ELECTION NEEDED

PROBABILITY: Unlikely.

All sides of politics, and the independents, are talking up the hope of finding a stable government after the election. But if neither side can forge a lasting deal Australia could be forced to hold a new election to sort out the mess. The prime minister of the day can call an election for the lower House of Representatives almost at any time, as long as they convince the Governor-General, the representative of head of state Queen Elizabeth, that an election is needed. A quick election is unlikely, however, as there is no reason to believe a fresh election would deliver a different result.

Former conservative Treasurer Peter Costello said the hung parliament would mean both major parties would be effectively campaigning for the next election from the first day of the new government.

Australian state governments have regularly had stable hung parliaments that have run their full term. But Australia elected its last national hung parliament in 1940. It would now seem unlikely the that the next government would run its full three-year term. Whoever wins could look for an excuse to go an election after at least 18 months in order to win a stronger mandate, particularly if the independents, and the Greens in the upper house Senate, frustrate the government’s legislative agenda.

(Editing by Michael Perry and Alex Richardson)

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Scenarios: Where now for Australia’s hung parliament?