‘You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,’ sang Jimmie Davis in the famous 1940 Louisiana state song. Some 70 years later, with Australia facing its first hung Parliament since the hit tune’s recording, the sun was shining Tuesday on Labor’s Julia Gillard as she finally secured the votes needed to become the nation’s first elected female prime minister.
‘Let's draw back the curtains and let the sun shine in, let our Parliament be more open than it was before,’ she told reporters in her victory address.
But for Gillard, September 7 started out much foggier. Despite being backed by some of the country’s political heavyweights, including Australian Greens MP Adam Bandt and leftish independent Andrew Wilkie, with a total of 72 elected Labor MPs Gillard had still needed two more votes to gain the required majority in the lower house; Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s Coalition needed three.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
An expectant nation awaited an announcement from the three key rural independents—Bob Katter, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor—who had promised to end 17 days of political uncertainty by committing their support to either Gillard or Abbott.
Katter declared his backing for Abbott around noon, but both sides then had to endure a nerve-wracking wait for the two others to pick a winner. And, it ended up being the Labor leader who emerged smiling rather than her conservative opponent.
Speaking after the fateful decision, a relieved-looking Gillard pledged to ‘serve the Australian people’ in a new era of open government. Vowing to deliver ‘stable, effective and secure government for the next three years,’ Gillard praised the resilience of the nation’s young democracy.
‘We live in a lively and resilient democracy—and it works,’ she said.
For Abbott and his colleagues, the outcome was a bitter blow given the conservative political backgrounds of the three kingmakers who ended up swinging the vote. Abbott stands also as the leader Liberal Party of Australia, the centre-right leaning Australian political party that makes up half of the Coalition.
‘The Coalition won more votes and more seats than our opponents, but sadly we didn’t get the opportunity to form a government,’ Abbott said at a press conference. ‘Obviously I’m disappointed about that, but that’s our system.’
He said he hoped Labor would rediscover its ‘soul’ and govern more effectively than it had under the leadership of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
‘For our country's sake, I hope Labor provides better government than they have for the last three years,’ he said.
The former Howard government minister added that he was determined not to become another forgotten, failed political leader. ‘My challenge now is to ensure that I’m not the best opposition leader never to have become prime minister,’ he said.
To rub more salt into the wound, having already won the primary vote, the Coalition had also been leading the two party-preferred vote (by just 1,369 votes) with 88 percent of this vote counted. Including West Australian National MP Tony Crook in its tally, the Coalition had also won 73 seats to Labor’s 72.