Fate of Australian government in hands of indie MPs

Victorian independent Cathy McGowan has not revealed whom she will support but is known to be conservative. Greens MP Adam Bandt has made it clear he that will not be in Mr Turnbull's camp. Rural MP Bob Katter tends to be staunchly conservative on so
Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie backed Labor leader Julia Gillard in 2010 and is likely to lean that way again.
Victorian independent Cathy McGowan has not revealed whom she will support but is known to be conservative. Greens MP Adam Bandt has made it clear he that will not be in Mr Turnbull's camp. Rural MP Bob Katter tends to be staunchly conservative on so
Victorian independent Cathy McGowan has not revealed whom she will support but is known to be conservative.
Victorian independent Cathy McGowan has not revealed whom she will support but is known to be conservative. Greens MP Adam Bandt has made it clear he that will not be in Mr Turnbull's camp. Rural MP Bob Katter tends to be staunchly conservative on so
Greens MP Adam Bandt has made it clear he that will not be in Mr Turnbull’s camp.
Victorian independent Cathy McGowan has not revealed whom she will support but is known to be conservative. Greens MP Adam Bandt has made it clear he that will not be in Mr Turnbull's camp. Rural MP Bob Katter tends to be staunchly conservative on so
Rural MP Bob Katter tends to be staunchly conservative on social issues and is more likely to favour Mr Turnbull.
Victorian independent Cathy McGowan has not revealed whom she will support but is known to be conservative. Greens MP Adam Bandt has made it clear he that will not be in Mr Turnbull's camp. Rural MP Bob Katter tends to be staunchly conservative on so
New MP Rebekha Sharkie from the party led by independent senator Nick Xenophon is known as a centrist.

As Australia faces the unexpected prospect of a hung Parliament, the fate of the nation is set to rest on an unlikely handful of little-known independent  MPs whose support will be vital to propping up a future government.

Of the five or so "kingmaker" MPs who are likely to make up the cross-bench in the Lower House, two are tipped to lean towards the ruling Coalition, two towards Labor, and the position of the fifth is unknown. 

Not surprisingly, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Labor leader Bill Shorten were quick to call the MPs after last Saturday's election.

Greens MP Adam Bandt has already made it clear he would not back Mr Turnbull. 

A Tasmanian independent, Mr Andrew Wilkie, has not revealed who he would support. But he backed Labor leader Julia Gillard when she faced a hung Parliament in 2010 and would be more likely to lean towards Labor leader Bill Shorten.

In contrast, colourful rural MP Bob Katter, who tends to be staunchly conservative on social issues, would be more likely to favour Mr Turnbull. So too would Victoria independent Cathy McGowan, who is reportedly considered more conservative on economic issues.

The ruling Coalition could yet win a slim majority but is expected to end up with fewer than 76 seats, which will leave it - or even Labor - scrambling for the support of the independents. 

Asked about her position, she said: "We'll cross that bridge when we get there."

Finally, there is new MP Rebekha Sharkie from the party led by independent senator Nick Xenophon. She previously worked as a staffer for the local Liberal MP, Mr Jamie Briggs, whom she defeated, and is considered a centrist. 

Mr Xenophon has refused to commit to supporting either party. "We have our differences but, where there is common ground, we need to work together constructively," he said.

As voting continues this week, the precise makeup of the 150-member Lower House - which determines who forms government - remains uncertain. The ruling Coalition could yet win a slim majority but is expected to end up with fewer than 76 seats, which will leave it -  or even Labor - scrambling for the support of the independents. 

It is unlikely the parties will enter formal deals with the independents, who could agree to back the ruling party in no-confidence motions and crucial budget votes.

Nonetheless, the continuing confusion has led to speculation the Lower House may be unworkable and that another election may be required.

Political commentator Dennis Atkins said a second election would not be popular.

"If anyone deliberately sent the country back to the polls, they might not get a happy reception," he wrote in The Courier-Mail. "Voters might have given us an uncertain outcome, but they don't want to go through it again."

Jonathan Pearlman

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 05, 2016, with the headline 'Fate of govt in hands of indie MPs'. Print Edition | Subscribe