After two hectic weeks Gillard can at last draw breath
AUSTRALIA'S next prime minister was chosen just before 2pm yesterday by two blokes on a green couch in small office in a far flung corner of Parliament House.
But Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott kept everyone guessing, including both would-be prime ministers, until
30 minutes into a suspense-filled 3pm press conference.
Let's get to work ... the Prime Minister Julia Gillard heads back to her Parliament House office. Photo: Andrew Meares
Julia Gillard was watching on a television in her office, with Wayne Swan, frontbenchers Warren Snowdon and Brendan O'Connor and her personal staff. When first Tony Windsor and then Rob Oakeshott finally declared in her favour others were jubilant. ''She exhaled'', said one of those present, ''as if for the first time in a fortnight''.
Her future had been finally decided on a single sheet of lined paper as Oakeshott and Windsor sat on the couch in Windsor's office and set out the pros and cons of their options.
Bob Katter was still holding a rambling press conference in his office just downstairs, at which he had declared in favour of Tony Abbott. The two former Nationals knew that unless they made a joint decision the numbers in the parliament would be tied, an election would be held and their balance of power would be most likely over.
In the Labor column they wrote ''regional package'': the $10 billion they had negotiated over the past two weeks in health, education and infrastructure funding for the regions. But beside it in the coalition column was the ''fair go for regions'' package offered by Tony Abbott, which they felt was almost as good.
In the Labor column they also wrote education - money promised from the regional investment fund - broadband, where they felt Labor was also clearly in the lead, and renewable energy and climate policies. In the Liberal column they wrote ''timber bridges'', an election pledge by Abbott to spend $300 million on replacing rickety country bridges of which there are many in their electorates, and the Coalition's plans to upgrade the Pacific Highway.
They had confided in each other they were each ''leaning'' towards Labor the previous evening, but both main parties did not deliver their final offers until yesterday morning and according to one of the independents ''Tony Abbott finished very strongly … he made the decision much more difficult in the end.''
The pair had had more meetings with Gillard and Swan and with Abbott during the day, but gave neither side any inkling what they would decide.
But Labor's campaign to woo the two men had been more organised and consistent. Kevin Rudd was deployed to talk to Katter, who said yesterday he would have backed Labor had Rudd still been at the helm, and lobbyist Bruce Hawker consulted on the thinking of Windsor, who is his cousin.
For Windsor, Labor's national broadband network was the policy clincher, for Oakeshott both broadband and Labor's promises on regional education.
But also important was the mistrust that caused each to leave the National Party in the first place and the suspicion the Nationals would never tolerate a long-term arrangement that allowed the independents a place in the political sun.
They discerned a strong view in the Coalition that any deal should only last until it was possible to go back to the polls and win an outright majority. Even though they felt Abbott was obviously ''in the negotiation to win it'' they were concerned the alternative view might prevail in the end.
The Coalition's vicious reaction to the Greens and Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie when they decided last week to support Labor reinforced the suspicion that it wasn't planning to put up with the vagaries of a hung parliament for very long. Wilkie told the Herald earlier yesterday ''the Coalition has shown enormous recklessness to attack me in the way that they have.''