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Australia rivals court independents as hung parliament looms

Independent and Green lawmakers are set to hold the balance of power in Australia after a "cliff-hanger" general election produced the first hung parliament in 70 years.


AFP - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbott on Sunday raced to woo independent and Greens "kingmakers" to join a coalition government and break deadlock in parliament.

Up to four independents and a new Greens MP looked set to hold the balance of power after Saturday's election ended in a hung parliament with neither Gillard's centre-left Labor Party nor the Liberal/Nationals winning a majority.

As the two-party system that has dominated Australian politics for more than a century rocks precariously, Gillard and conservative rival Abbott were making urgent overtures to the usually ignored minor representatives.

"I've had two very kind phone calls -- one from the prime minister early in the evening just to congratulate me and then about 1:15 am the leader of the opposition rang to congratulate me as well," said independent Tony Windsor.

"Obviously we did mention if there was a hung parliament that there may have to be some discussion," he told reporters, declining however to say which party he would throw his support behind.

Windsor is one of three independents who were returned to the 150-seat parliament in which Gillard's party was expected to take 72 seats and Abbott's 73, both of them falling short of the 76 seats needed to govern alone.

A fourth looks likely to be returned in the southern state of Tasmania, while the Greens picked up a lower house of parliament seat in Melbourne, making kingmakers of a handful of former political irrelevants.

Queensland independent Bob Katter said he too had received calls from "very powerful people", but would not say who. He, Windsor and New South Wales independent Rob Oakeshott said they would hold talks to decide their positions.

"The three country independents anyway, we've agreed to sit down -- and we'll be talking later today by phone," Windsor told Sky News.

"It's a very exciting and enlightening moment. I want stable government and I want a parliament that can deliver outcomes," Oakeshott added, saying the process could take days or weeks and refusing to be drawn on who he would back.

Katter, Windsor and Oakeshott were all once members of the conservative country-based National Party, which has for decades been in a coalition with Abbott's conservative Liberal Party.

Greens MP Adam Bandt has previously said he would support a Labor-led government and Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie, who looks likely to win a seat, is also seen as more left-leaning.

But it may be local issues that will determine who the independents will back for government, leaving Australia's future government hanging in the balance.

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