Gillard returns

Weeks after a general election threw up a fractured verdict, a minority Labour government supported by the Greens and two independent MPs has come to power in Australia. Julia Gillard will stay as prime minister. However, how long her government will survive is a moot question. It has a wafer-thin majority in the lower house, with just one seat more than the opposition. It will therefore be a fragile government that will constantly come under pressure from its allies in government and the opposition. Gillard will have to tread carefully, consult and seek consensus in the coming months. So close was the election result that it is possible to say that Labour did not win the mandate, neither did the Liberals lose it. Gillard’s main challenge then will be to win political legitimacy that a deadlocked election result denied her.

Although the government is Labour-led and has a Green component, it is being described as a right-leaning one. Many have interpreted the ‘coup’ that Gillard carried out to oust her predecessor Kevin Rudd as being powered by big business. While it was generally believed that Rudd’s dipping public support had prompted Gillard to challenge him, some analysts have suggested that giant transnational mining companies had played a role in fuelling the anti-Rudd rebellion in the party. The rightward tilt of the government with Gillard taking charge of the reins became apparent when she withdrew a proposed 30 per cent tax on mining companies. During the election campaign too, Gillard underlined her conservative position when she whipped up voter hostility against asylum seekers and refugees with her call for strong border protection. It would be a pity indeed if the economic gains made during Rudd rule — Australia emerged relatively unscathed from the recession — are frittered away by Gillard.

Australia’s relations with India had soured significantly under Rudd. The government’s unsatisfactory handling of the violent attacks on Indian immigrants to Australia and its perceived warming towards China did cause some unease. Gillard will have to act decisively to step the downslide in bilateral ties. Rudd’s government had opposed sale of uranium to India. That position seems unlikely to change under Gillard, particularly since her government is dependent on support from the Greens. It is difficult to see Australia’s relations with India rebounding anytime soon.

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