Lawmaker To Back Australian Government In Hung Parliament

Lawmaker To Back Australian Government In Hung Parliament

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull traveled to Brisbane for talks with Bob Katter. (AFP File Photo)

Canberra, Australia:  Australia's conservative government tightened its slim grip on power as it increased its narrow lead in election vote counting and as an independent lawmaker agreed to support the ruling party if it does not win a majority.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull traveled to the east coast city of Brisbane for talks with maverick independent lawmaker Bob Katter to discuss what demands Katter might make in return for supporting a minority government if the count from the weekend election ended with only Australia's third hung parliament in more than a century.

"I am very confident, very confident indeed that we will form ... a majority government in our own right, but I am, of course, talking to the crossbenchers as well," Turnbull told reporters in Katter's home state of Queensland, referring to the independent and minor party lawmakers who could hold the balance of power in a divided parliament.

"But so far the counting trends are very positive from our point of view," he said.

Katter said after the meeting that he had agreed to support the government if it fell short of a majority. He gave few details but said the agreement had yet to be confirmed in writing.

"I do so with no great enthusiasm," Katter said. "I will maintain my right to change at any point of time in the future."

Katter said he agreed to support the government because he did not believe the opposition center-left Labor Party could form a minority government and he did not want to force Australians to go back to the polls.

The uncertainty surrounding the election prompted rating agency Standard & Poor's to downgrade Australia's coveted AAA credit rating from "stable" to "negative."

The agency said Australia needs "more forceful fiscal policy decisions" to reign in debt and believes such tough measures could be postponed by the new Parliament.

Turnbull said the credit rating decision was a reminder that tackling the deficit "must be a very high priority" for the next Parliament.

He described his discussion with Katter "very good and constructive."

Turnbull's Liberal Party-led coalition needs at least a 76-seat majority in the House of Representatives, where it had controlled 90 seats before the election.

The Australian Electoral Commission put the coalition ahead in 74 seats, Labor in 71, and the minor parties and independents in five. Mail-in and absentee votes that are still being counted days after Saturday's vote are favoring the conservatives.

Australian Broadcasting Corp. election analysts - considered among the most reliable - were forecasting that the coalition had 73 seats, Labor 66, with minor parties and independents leading in five seats. Another six seats are still in doubt.

Katter is the only independent or minor party lawmaker - called crossbenchers because they sit between the major parties in Parliament - to declare support for a major party.

Labor Party leader Bill Shorten on Thursday did not concede defeat, but said "it is more likely that Mr. Turnbull will fall over the line."

Shortened questioned how much stability Katter, renowned for wearing a large felt cowboy hat to Parliament and widely known as "Mad Bob," could offer the government.

"I hope Malcolm Turnbull's got more in the stability drawer than just saying he's got Bob Katter on his side," Shorten said.

If the government falls short of a majority, Governor-General Peter Cosgrove will give Turnbull the first chance to form a minority government with the support of one or more independent lawmakers.

If Turnbull can't, then Shorten will be given a chance to form a minority government. If neither side can form a government, then another election will be held.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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