One of the three rural independents whose backing will decide Australia's government says they still haven't made their mind up, but a decision was expected this afternoon. The trio has scheduled a press conference for 2pm that should finally reveal to the nation whether Labor or the Liberal-Nationals will form the next minority government. The decision of three rural independents - Tony Windsor, Bob Katter and Rob Oakeshott - will decide if Prime Minister Julia Gillard keeps the top job, or Opposition Leader Tony Abbott takes over the reins.
Independent MPs have flexed their political muscle to force Labor and the Coalition to accept parliamentary reforms as a pre-condition to their verdict on who will form the nation's next government. The new deal will greatly pare back the role of the executive in parliamentary sittings, banning long and boring ministerial speeches and restoring to MPs greater opportunities to speak about matters in their own electorates. While the previous parliament was dominated by the raw political combat of question time, in future ministers will face strict time limits and a partial prohibition on relying on notes when answering questions. And a new independent speaker will ensure that private members' bills, previously seldom debated, will come to the house - a move that will leave room for the Greens to pursue issues including legalising same-sex marriages and liberalising asylum-seeker policy.
Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson has urged key independent Rob Oakeshott to back Tony Abbott, describing the Liberal leader as a "once-in-a-generation" conservative who could lead the way on reconciliation. Mr Pearson made his extraordinary last-minute intervention in a bid to convince Mr Oakeshott to back Mr Abbott, a former indigenous affairs spokesman, on the basis that a Coalition government would show more leadership on Aboriginal issues than Labor. Mr Pearson told Mr Oakeshott he strongly believed Labor was unwilling to take on issues confronting Aboriginal Australia. "We're going to get done over by an active Greens agenda to stifle indigenous aspirations combined with a passive indifference on the part of Labor," he said.
Ballarat blacksmith John Madigan has taken an iron grip on Victoria's last Senate seat, and appears set to become the first Democratic Labor Party senator in 36 years. With 87.5 per cent of the vote counted, Mr Madigan has widened his lead over Family First senator Steve Fielding and is maintaining a big margin over Liberal senator Julian McGauran. The DLP has polled only 68,702 votes or 2.3 per cent. But preferences from One Nation, Christian Democrats and the Liberal Democrats will see it leapfrog Family First, whose preferences will help it leapfrog the Coalition.
The final hurdle between the trio of independents possibly supporting a Coalition government was removed late last night, when West Australian Nationals MP Tony Crook publicly confirmed he would support an Abbott government on supply and no-confidence motions. Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor had earlier demanded Mr Crook make his position clear, saying they would have no "genuine" choice to make between the two major parties if Mr Crook did not clarify his position within a possible Coalition government. The Coalition has 72 seats in parliament and needs 76 to govern. It has been widely assumed that Mr Crook, a Nationals MP who has left open the option of sitting on the cross benches, would bring the Coalition's total to 73, but Mr Oakeshott yesterday said that assumption needed to be confirmed publicly before a decision could be made as early as today.
The future of the controversial pilot of ethics classes in NSW schools is in the hands of an independent evaluator who will deliver her verdict this month. Dr Sue Knight, an academic at the University of South Australia, is wading through submissions from religious organisations including Presbyterian Youth and the Sydney diocese of the Anglican church, and Cardinal George Pell and Bishop Peter Ingham on behalf of the Catholic Church. Education Department officials and representatives of the Parents and Citizens' Association have had face-to-face interviews with Dr Knight. The state government is set to base its decision on Dr Knight's report. The general manager of Presbyterian Youth, Murray Norman, complained that there was a lack of transparency with the trial and said it was difficult to obtain information about it.
The parliamentary staff member who commissioned an unauthorised audit of internet use which forced the sudden resignation of a minister last week has herself resigned. Lisa Vineburg, a human resources executive in the NSW Department of Parliamentary Services, left her position after it emerged she had asked the IT department to trawl through the computers of all ministers and MPs, their staffers and all non-political employees in Macquarie Street. The raw data, which suggested about five people had recorded an usually high level of activity or "hits" from adult or gaming websites, was subsequently leaked to the media.
Olympic gold medal-winning diver Matthew Mitcham has defended fellow champion Stephanie Rice from accusations of homophobia. Rice, who has been linked with Wallabies star Quade Cooper, acknowledged the Australian rugby union team's last-gasp victory early on Sunday morning by tweeting on the online network Twitter: "Suck on that faggots. Probs the best game I've ever seen!! Well done boys." She later removed the comment and apologised for it. "I made a comment on Twitter on Saturday night in the excitement of the moment," Rice said in a statement yesterday.
Calls for the medically supervised injecting rooms in Kings Cross to be made permanent have been overshadowed by the death of a man shortly after he used intravenous drugs at the centre. Management said the 39-year-old ''did not overdose'' but had a ''medical condition''. However, the death on Friday soured the release yesterday of a report that says fears that the centre would act as a lure for drug dealers and other criminals have not been realised. The death is the first to have an immediate connection with the centre, which has handled more than 3500 overdoses successfully on site without a fatality since it was established on a trial basis in May 2001.
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