Labor is hoping that its broadband plan will prove irresistible to three rural independents who hold the key to forming government.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott both have claimed their party should govern, but Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Bob Katter have not yet given any hints about who they will support.
However, high speed internet access is a crucial issue for rural Australia, and Tony Windsor has said Labor’s National Broadband Network plan is definitely better than the Coalition’s.
“(Labor’s plan) is a better option than the Coalition’s, there’s no doubt about that,” said Windsor.
“But the delivery is another matter,” he said.
“I don’t trust either of them, he added, saying that the Coalition had promised equity of access across the country under John Howard and had failed to deliver it.
Back to the polls
Windsor, Katter and Oakeshott have vowed to vote in a bloc, guaranteeing whichever party woos their support a majority in parliament.
Rob Oakeshott says he and his colleagues want to reach an agreement that guarantees stable government, and has called for another election if that is impossible.
“If we can’t get that, let’s go back to the ballot box,” he told ABC Television on Monday.
Mr Oakeshott said he and colleagues Windsor and Katter would hold preliminary discussions with Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott later on Monday and Tuesday.
Negotiations might not be finalised before the end of the next week, he warned.
Joyce ‘a fool’
Windsor and Katter’s open animosty toward National party Senate leader Barnaby Joyce could also lessen the chance of an alliance with the Coalition.
“I don’t like the guy,” Windsor told SkyNews, adding that Joyce has ‘a tendency to do stupid things’.
Katter was also openly disdainful of senior Nationals, including leader Warren Truss and the party Senate leader Barnaby Joyce, who he said had launched personal attacks on him during Saturday’s election coverage.
“I can almost see Tony Abbott grinding his teeth – with friends like these who needs enemies,” he told the Seven Network.
National links ‘mean nothing’
All three independents are former National Party members, but Windsor says that does not mean he will support the Coalition, which is made up of the Liberal and National parties.
“I was a card carrying member of the Nationals in the 1980s,” Windsor told SkyNews.
“I gave up smoking at around the same time, so I ridded myself of two cancers,” he added.
Abbott has countered Gillard’s assertion that Labor has the most primary votes, saying a savage swing against Labor has taken away its mandate to rule.
The first hung parliament in 70 years means Labor and the coalition could spend several weeks attempting to cobble together a workable arrangement before either side can form government.
Then there is the new Greens MP for Melbourne Adam Bandt and Andrew Wilkie, a former intelligence analyst who is considered a frontrunner in the Hobart seat of Denison.
In another twist a new West Australian National MP, Tony Crook, has indicated he won’t sit in the coalition party room.
Mr Windsor said political stability would be a factor in deciding which side to back.
“The three of us and the WA National and others and Andrew Wilkie, and the Green from Melbourne, we can make this work,” Mr Windsor told ABC TV on Sunday.
“If the major parties actually move away from this dog against dog attitude that they’ve had through the election campaign and looked to the national interest on this … we can come up with something that’s quite successful.”
76 seats needed
The Australian Electoral Commission says the ALP and Coalition have won 70 seats each, with six electorates still in doubt.
Mr Bandt has indicated he is more inclined to support Labor.
The rural independents haven’t expressed a preference for one particular side but they have all backed a national broadband scheme, a policy more strongly advocated by Labor.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard spoke with the three incumbent independents and Mr Bandt and Mr Wilkie on Sunday.
“It’s my intention to negotiate in good faith an effective agreement to form government,” she told reporters in Melbourne.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who’s also spoken to the rural independents, said it was “almost inconceivable that any Labor government emerging from this election could deliver competent and stable government”.
While Australia hasn’t had a minority government at a federal level since 1940, they have existed in NSW, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia during the past two decades.
Former NSW premier Nick Greiner secured a second term in 1991 with the support of Mr Windsor when he was an independent state MP.
Mr Greiner said Mr Windsor, who is now the federal MP for New England, was less likely to use his position this time to extract benefits for his seat.
“All of us have added some maturity over the last 20 years,” he told Sky News.
Failure to reach a compromise could see Australians return to the ballot box soon.