Australian key lawmaker backs Labor to govern

Prime Minister Julia Gillard edges closer to retaining power in Australia.

Canberra: Prime Minister Julia Gillard edged closer to retaining power in Australia on Thursday when an independent lawmaker said he would support her centre-left Labor Party to form Australia`s first minority government in almost seven decades.

A bloc of three independent kingmakers will now decide whether Labor governs for a second three-year term or whether a conservative Liberal Party-led coalition forms the next administration after August 21 elections failed to deliver any party a majority.

The conservative coalition now needs the backing of all three uncommitted independents to reach a 76-seat majority in the 150-seat House of Representatives while Labor needs only two.

Independent Andrew Wilkie, who has negotiated outside the bloc of three, announced his decision at Parliament House after meetings with Gillard and Liberal leader Tony Abbott.

"I have judged that it is in fact the ALP that best meets my criteria that the next government must be stable, must be competent and must be ethical," Wilkie told reporters, referring to the Australian Labor Party.

Wilkie said he expected his fellow independents were now more likely to support Labor, after new figures showed that the coalition had overstated savings from their election promises by up to AUD 10.6 billion (USD 9.7 billion).

Abbott said on Thursday that his coalition has the best economic credentials to govern despite the figures released late Wednesday by the three independents.

Abbott`s Liberal Party represents the conservative spectrum in Australian politics, despite its name.

Senior Liberal lawmakers have stuck by the accuracy of their own figures and explained that the discrepancies with official calculations by government ministries were "a difference of opinion" on methodology and underlying assumptions such as future interest rates.

Abbott said the discrepancies did not compromise his negotiations with three non-aligned, kingmaker legislators.

"There are a whole lot of issues in play here and an, at times, arcane argument about costings is by no means the most important," Abbott told reporters at Parliament House. "The bottom line is that there are two competing economic records here."

He said that when Labor was elected in 2007, it had inherited AUD 60 billion (USD 55 billion) in assets, which it turned into AUD 90 billion (USD 82 billion) debt through economic stimulus spending.

The three independents had requested briefings from Treasury and Finance Ministry bureaucrats on confidential estimates of competing election pledges.

They said the questions of which party had the best economic blueprint, and which might have misled voters, were key factors in deciding whether to back a Liberal Party-led coalition or Labor Party government.

The trio released Treasury documents that contradicted Abbott`s claim that Australia`s bottom line would be AUD 11.5 billion (USD 10.5 billion) better under his conservative coalition in three years, when both sides of politics have promised to return the budget to surplus.

Treasury found that the improvement could be as little as AUD 900 million (USD 820 million).

Bureau Report

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