Australia Has a New Government, Finally

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard (L) laughs beside Federal opposition leader Tony Abbott (R) after she finally secured enough independents to form the new government at Parliament House in Canberra on September 7, 2010. (Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images)

Australia has a new government, finally.

The incumbent Labor Party—under the nation's first-ever female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard—is forming a minority government. It's clinging to power by wooing support from three independent legislators who, along with one Green, have promised to give it enough numbers to lead the new Parliament.

The news follows more than two weeks of tense and uncertain negotiations since Australian voters—disenchanted with the nation's major political parties—failed to deliver a clear result in an August 21 election. 

It's a huge relief for Gillard. She gambled everything Labor had earlier this year when she ousted Mandarin-speaking Kevin Rudd as leader in a party room coup. She justified that surprise act by claiming that Rudd's falling popularity meant he had no chance of winning the election.

As things turned out, her campaign was lacklustre and unimaginative. And, she came within hair's breadth of losing power herself.

Under the deals she has made with the independents, Gillard has promised to reform procedures in the Parliament to make it more accountable and transparent. There will also be a shake-up of the bureaucracy and some pork barrelling for rural Australia (where two of the independents come from).

All this could be tough ask.

Gillard says she is ready to lead a "stable, effective and stable government." But the fact is that she is only one seat away from losing control of the Parliament. So, there is no guarantee that the alliance she has stitched together will stay together. If it unravels, voters will be forced back to the polls.

Australia has not had a minority government for 60 years and the last one did not last long. Let's see what happens this time.

Australia's relations with Asia was not a major campaign issue. Nonetheless, with the economies to the north booming and the strategic balance of the region shifting, Gillard must make this, as well as her political survival, a priority.

Perhaps the deposed Rudd (a former diplomat) might help here. There's strong speculation that Gillard will appoint him Minister for Foreign Affairs.

About the Author

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Geoff Spencer oversees Asia Society's online, public relations, and marketing departments. He has over 25 years of experience as an Asia-based journalist.