Conservatives Close in on Australian Government Rule

australian election 2016
Ryan Pierse/Getty

Australia’s next government looked more likely to remain in conservatives’ hands Thursday as they secured extra seats in an ongoing vote count after weekend elections, and a key independent pledged his support.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (pictured) has been meeting with independent lower house politicians to shore up backing for his Liberal/National coalition amid uncertainty that it will be able to win the 76 seats required in the House of Representatives to form a majority government.

On Thursday he won the support of Bob Katter, a colourful rural MP who recently sparked controversy after a campaign video showed him shooting two political opponents over the sale of agricultural land to foreigners.

“I have had very constructive discussions with Katter and I thank him for the support that he has given my government,” Turnbull said in a brief statement after the pair met in Brisbane.

Latest projections by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s veteran analyst Antony Green said the coalition was on course to hold at least 73 seats, with Katter’s support taking them to 74. Six seats remain too close to call.

Katter’s backing means he would get behind the government on budget matters and on votes of no confidence.

“We do not want to go back to the polls, that should not be imposed upon the Australian people,” the Queensland MP said, which could happen if none of the major parties can secure enough support to form a government.

“I do so (give my support) with no great enthusiasm… I maintain my right to move at any point in time in another direction.”

His announcement was not a surprise, with Katter backing the coalition in 2010 when the nation was last faced with a hung parliament, where no single political party has a majority in the 150-seat lower house.

Four independents and one Greens MP have won lower seats. At least two of them have ruled out working with either the coalition or the Labor opposition.

The uncertainty follows national polls on Saturday, with early counts giving neither of the two major parties enough seats to govern.

The inconclusive result led global ratings agency Standard and Poor’s to place Australia coveted AAA-rating on negative watch from stable Thursday, saying the outcome could lead to further delays in efforts to reduce rising budget deficits and debt.

Treasurer Scott Morrison pledged after the S&P statement that if his government was returned to power, they would work hard to “ensure that we can maintain the financial strength of the government and of the country as a result”.