Australia's new parliament was sworn in on Tuesday, with the country's first woman prime minister, Julia Gillard (pictured), leading a coalition that holds a majority of just a single vote.
AFP - Australia's new parliament got off to a rocky start Tuesday with the opposition ignoring Prime Minister Julia Gillard's plea to work hand-in-hand with the first minority government since World War II.
Gillard warned of "remarkable and demanding times" as the parliament was sworn in, five turbulent weeks after she teetered on the brink of catastrophe when August 21 elections returned the first hung parliament in 70 years.
The centre-left Labor leader, who is Australia's first woman prime minister, urged the conservative opposition to embrace a new spirit of consensus and not seek to destroy her rainbow coalition's wafer-thin majority of just one vote.
"This term of parliament is not an opportunity to re-fight the election vote after vote, bill after bill," she told the first sitting of the House of Representatives, Australia's lower house.
"This is time for consensus, not confrontation."
However, opposition leader Tony Abbott pledged to hold the government accountable to its election promises.
"A finely balanced parliament does not excuse the government from its duty to keep election commitments," Abbott said, to raucous cheers from his supporters.
"This is an opposition which will hold this government to account. It will be a parliament of robust debate."
Abbott earlier pledged to tear up a convention aimed at preserving the parliament's balance in which the opposition leader does not vote when the prime minister is away, warning Gillard would have to give good reason for not attending.
"When the parliament is sitting the first responsibility of all its members, including the prime minister, including me, is to attend the parliament," he told reporters.
The comment ramps up threats from Abbott, a climate-change sceptic who came within a whisker of a shock election win, to abandon MPs' so-called "pairing" system in a bid to bring about the fragile government's collapse.
A related row meant Labor's Harry Jenkins was re-elected as speaker rather than an independent, cutting Gillard's advantage to 75 seats against 74 in the 150-member parliament. His two deputies were due to be decided by ballot later.
Date created : 2010-09-28