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Australia: Labor Party Clings to Power with Minority Government

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has managed to hold onto power after securing the support of independents to form a minority government. It took 17 days to do so after a general election failed to deliver a clear winner. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

Julia Gillard's Labor Party has the narrowest of margins as it forms Australia's first minority government in decades. Two independent lawmakers on Tuesday said they would back Labor, giving it a one-seat majority in parliament.

Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor say their decision to back Labor was incredibly hard. For two-and-a-half weeks they negotiated with both major parties before choosing Ms. Gillard's left-of-center administration.

Another independent member of parliament, Bob Katter, earlier Tuesday pledged his backing to the conservative opposition.

Voters punished the governing party in last month's election because of a series of policy failures, including indecision on climate change. In addition, many voters were unhappy with the party's sudden removal of Kevin Rudd as prime minister just weeks before the election.

Labor secured the support of the two independents by promising greater action on climate change and telecommunications for rural areas.

Oakeshott said at a news conference that it was hard to choose between the sides.

"On an absolute judgment call - and I emphasis it is a points decision - I am confirming for the governor general of Australia that today I will do what I have always done, ironically, and give confidence and supply to government and, in effect, that means confidence and supply in Julia Gillard unless, and I emphasis unless, exceptional circumstances determine otherwise," he said.

His decision should allow the Gillard government, which also gained the support of one other independent member of parliament and a member of the Greens party, to continue with plans to introduce a controversial 30 percent tax on mining profits. Labor also wants to make the country's biggest polluters pay for carbon emissions.

Ms. Gillard now becomes Australia's first female elected prime minister. Had the result been different, the Welsh-born leader would have been one of the country's shortest-serving leaders, having taken office in June after Mr. Rudd's departure.

Australia's new parliament is unlikely to begin working for several weeks. When it does, this generation of lawmakers enter uncharted territory. The last hung parliament was in 1940.