Julia Gillard has negotiated her way to victory in the August 21 election by agreeing to funnel $10 billion into rural and regional Australia, to lock in backing from two independent MPs. But the Prime Minister's second term has come with a heavy political cost, as Labor is faced with funding the deal by stripping money from its city electorates. Under deals finalised yesterday, Ms Gillard will hold a tax reform summit by next July and has offered NSW independent MP Rob Oakeshott a seat in cabinet. The independents' announcement that they would support Labor ended a fortnight of uncertainty since voters stripped Labor of 16 seats in an election that produced the nation's first hung parliament since World War II.
Sublime chaos after a 17-day delay has seen two rural independents save Julia Gillard's prime ministership and rescue Labor's political neck. The price will be weak and uncertain government under a strange political beast: a Labor-Green-independent rainbow alliance. Gillard will have a minority in both the House and Senate. The 2-1 split yesterday among the rural independents has given Gillard the tightest possible 76-74 floor majority. This may keep Labor in power for a full term but legislative gridlock and timid policy are looming. Despite the talk of sunshine, the legacy is more likely to be bad political blood, a war between the pro-Labor rural independents and the Nationals, and a guaranteed Tony Abbott-led Coalition campaign that the Gillard government is without legitimacy. Despite the margin, Gillard is elected Prime Minister in her own right and will emerge with enhanced standing and authority.
The conservative upper house MP Fred Nile has called for the same-sex adoption bill before NSW Parliament to be resubmitted to the lower house, saying the legislation will not succeed if another vote is held. The bill passed the Legislative Assembly with a two-vote majority, but one MP was in hospital (Kevin Greene) and another (John Aquilina) was overseas. Both would have voted against the bill, Mr Nile said. ''It does raise the question: should this bill be resubmitted? It would then come down to a casting vote by the speaker.'' That would mean the bill would fail, in line with the views of most of the population, he said. The legislation was also potentially under threat from a foreshadowed amendment by the Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, which was aimed at limiting an earlier amendment moved by the Environment Minister, Frank Sartor, to give religion-based adoption agencies an exemption from discrimination legislation when assessing adoptions.
Surrogacy laws will be introduced into NSW, giving people legal rights as parents when someone has a child on their behalf. The proposal was brought to Cabinet by Attorney-General John Hatzistergos, with a conscience vote planned in both houses. The proposal would ban commercial surrogacy but allow gay couples to use surrogates to have their children. Strict age limits would be provided on the "carriers" of children, with the minimum age for carrying a child to be 25.
Labor's controversial internet filter plan faces near-death despite the ascension of Julia Gillard as Australia's 28th prime minister. Ms Gillard won the backing of independent MPs turned powerbrokers Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott despite Bob Katter supporting the Coalition and Tony Abbott. The country has been in limbo since the August 21 poll didn't deliver an outright winner. Labor went into the 2007 election pledging to censor the internet but since then Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has changed the shape of his plan several times. At last count Senator Conroy ordered a 12-month review into how refused classification content is rated.
He missed out by the narrowest of margins on claiming the nation's top job but Tony Abbott was applauded as a hero by colleagues when he stepped forward to accept election defeat last night. Mr Abbott will be re-endorsed unopposed as Liberal leader tomorrow, with Julie Bishop staying as his deputy and foreign affairs spokeswoman, and the man he replaced - Malcolm Turnbull - promised a senior front bench role. The Liberal audience was roused by Mr Abbott's warning the new Government would be challenged, and forced to an election if its performance warranted it. "You won't be surprised if, as an Opposition, I tend to focus on what can be done better," he said. But the acclaim for the man who nearly wiped the electoral floor with Labor and at one stage thought he had, will disguise a number of problems within the Liberal Party exposed by the election.
Child protection across the country is too intent on fixing broken families at the expense of vulnerable children's safety and welfare, a report says. And "mandatory reporting" -- requiring public servants to notify authorities of children in danger -- had worked "incredibly well" in recent years, and was not the failure that many in the child protection field had claimed, the paper by Jeremy Sammut from right-wing think-tank the Centre for Independent Studies said. "In too many child welfare cases -- and here lies the heart of the child protection crisis -- the presumed right of dysfunctional parents to keep possession of children is elevated above the rights and best interests of children," he wrote in Child Protection in the Post-Welfare State Era, to be published today. "The pendulum has swung too far towards trying to fix broken families and giving parents limitless opportunities to change."
Strategist Bruce Hawker was an effective behind-the-scenes hub for camp Labor. Last Wednesday night Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott made a critical tactical decision that rang serious alarm bells for Tony Abbott and his camp. Late in the evening, having been locked up at their request with the Treasury boffins on a fact-finding mission, Windsor and Oakeshott took the unprecedented decision to release intricate details of the parties' election costings. The spreadsheets pinged into unsuspecting inboxes all around the building. It was late and the Parliament - sailing through the Canberra night like a ghostly galleon in this strange indeterminate transition - had emptied of apparatchiks and many journalists. The costings were released by the two independents on the basis that for them, transparency mattered. Given there was a significant hole in the Coalition's numbers, the blind-siding - and it was a total blind side - was bad news for Abbott.
The promotional blurb for Polly and Me reads: "Behind closed doors unfolds a story of neglect. An eight-year-old girl lives alone with her mother and dreams of a better life beyond the walls of their small and dingy apartment. Polly and Me is the story of one little girl who has fallen between the cracks and reminds us that just because we don't see her, it doesn't mean she isn't there." The short film will air tomorrow at 9.30pm on ABC1, coinciding with National Child Protection Week. It is produced and directed by the group who made the confronting, AFI award-winning 2008 documentary, The Oasis, which followed the lives of homeless youth who visit an inner-city refuge.
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