Five kingmakers who may decide Australia’s next government

by NZ Adviser06 Jul 2016
(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull promised voters he would deliver the stability Australians crave if he won the July 2 election.

Instead, the country faces days of uncertainty. Initial counting failed to show a clear winner between the former banker’s Liberal-National coalition and the Bill Shorten-led Labor opposition. Around three million votes still need to be counted, and it’s possible neither side will get the 76 lower-house seats needed for a majority government.

If so, Turnbull may seek the support of a disparate bunch of crossbench lawmakers. That evokes memories of then-leader Julia Gillard bargaining with independents after the 2010 election. It didn’t last -- her minority Labor government was evicted from office three years later.

“It looks like the coalition will get close enough to cobble together enough crossbenchers to form a minority government,” said Clem Macintyre, a politics professor at the University of Adelaide. “But that’s just the first task: getting legislation through will be a perennial challenge for the new government. The lessons of 2010 to 2013 show it will be a very tough challenge keeping it all together.”

Here are the five lawmakers who may decide Australia’s next government:

Rookie Parliamentarian
Rebekha Sharkie, the new member for a district in the Adelaide Hills, won as disaffected voters switched to the nascent Nick Xenophon Team. She defeated Liberal incumbent Jamie Briggs, in whose district office she once worked.

Sharkie, 43, had jobs in conveyancing and legal office management before politics. She was wooed to Xenophon’s team by his message of struggling South Australia state needing greater protection for steel making and manufacturing. Populist Senator Xenophon, who opposes free-trade deals and wants a crackdown on gaming companies, may still pick up another lower-house seat and some Senate spots.

While Xenophon is against the corporate tax cuts that were the centerpiece of Turnbull’s May budget, Sharkie is willing to enter negotiations with the prime minister.

Old Timer
Bob Katter, 71, is a cowboy-hat wearing lawmaker from rural Queensland, where his opposition to same-sex marriage and gun controls have made him popular. A federal lawmaker for the Nationals for eight years, he fell out with the rural-based party in 2001 and set up Katter’s Australian Party in 2011.

Katter opposes free-trade deals with Asian nations and wants fewer entry visas, likening immigration numbers to “the Mexicans in the United States, you will never get them out of this country." His election campaign featured ads mimicking him shooting coalition and Labor opponents for putting Australia up “for sale” to foreigners.

He has a list of pet projects, including dams, a canal and railway lines for his seat that he’ll want funded before agreeing to back a Turnbull government.

Regional Champion
Independent Cathy McGowan won the previously safe Liberal seat of Indi in rural Victoria in 2013, claiming that major parties had taken voters for granted. She earlier worked as a schoolteacher, a representative for agricultural lobby groups and a research assistant for a Liberal lawmaker.

A pragmatist, 62 year-old McGowan champions regional issues and wants greater funding for infrastructure and telecoms. She also seeks tougher action against climate change and increased subsidies for renewable energy. She calls herself “proudly independent” and says she won’t do any deals to form government.

Former Dealmaker
Andrew Wilkie, 54, is an independent lawmaker and former army offer who resigned as an intelligence analyst to protest the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Before winning the Tasmanian seat of Denison in 2010, he campaigned as a candidate for the Australian Greens.

Wilkie has been through this before, signing a deal in 2010 to back the Gillard government. He reneged in 2012, claiming Labor failed to support him in cracking down on slot machines.

Wilkie has said he’s unwilling to support the coalition’s proposed tax cuts, wants a more lenient system to deal with asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat, and backs same-sex marriage. He says he won’t sign a formal agreement with any party but that the “channels of communication” are open with Turnbull.

Climate Campaigner
Former industrial relations lawyer Adam Bandt, 44, became the first Australian Greens candidate to win a lower-house seat at a general election in 2010 when he claimed the inner-city electorate of Melbourne.

The likelihood of Turnbull securing a minority government with Bandt’s support appears remote -- the Greens’ left-leaning policies cut against the more conservative Liberal-National coalition. Bandt has said he’d be willing to back Labor to form government, as he did previously in 2010 in support of tougher action to combat climate change. Shorten has ruled out formal deals with any small parties or independent lawmakers.

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