Australia PM rules out early poll after by-election blow

Prime Minister Scott Morrison addresses the media on the grounds of Kirribilli House, Sydney, Australia, October 21, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 21 October 2018
0

Australia PM rules out early poll after by-election blow

  • While most analysts said it appeared likely Phelps would hold on to the win, Prime Minister Scott Morrison struck a more upbeat tone

SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged Sunday his embattled government would serve out a full term despite the conservative coalition looking set to lose its majority after a voter backlash in a crucial Sydney by-election.
The Liberal-National coalition, which has a one-seat parliamentary majority, appeared headed for minority government status after a huge swing in a traditionally safe seat, fueled by anger over the ousting of former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.
But despite the Liberal candidate conceding defeat Saturday after high-profile independent Kerryn Phelps captured an apparently insurmountable lead in the seat of Wentworth, the count has narrowed sharply as postal votes are counted.
Phelps’ lead of more than 54 percent under Australia’s voting system — which allocates voters’ second preferences if no candidate secures a majority — shrank Sunday to just over 50.61 percent, or 884 votes over her Liberal rival.
It rose late Sunday to a margin of 1,616 as routine recounts for several booths increased her lead.
While most analysts said it appeared likely Phelps would hold on to the win, Prime Minister Scott Morrison struck a more upbeat tone.
“If it (the margin) gets as close as 100 then an automatic recount is triggered under the normal rules,” Morrison told reporters. “I am not saying it will get to that.”
The prime minister, who must call national elections by mid-May, acknowledged voter anger over political infighting in Canberra but said he was determined to stay on even if the coalition becomes a minority government.
“Australian people expect governments to serve their term. We are elected to serve our term and that is what we are going to do,” he said.
The by-election in the wealthy seat was triggered after Turnbull, the local MP, resigned after being toppled in a party coup in August.
Turnbull had held the seat with a comfortable margin of 18 percent, but support for the Liberals tumbled over his treatment.
Morrison signalled he was willing to work with minor parties and independents to address what Phelps said would be the first item on her agenda — removing refugee children held in Australian detention camps on the Pacific island nation of Nauru.
Canberra sends asylum-seekers who try to reach the country by boat to remote Pacific facilities including on Nauru to deter them from trying to come to Australia.
There has been growing international and domestic pressure on Morrison to move the children to Australia amid reports they are suffering from serious health problems.
A final count for Wentworth might only be declared after the November 2 deadline for postal votes has passed.


Key ministers back British PM in Brexit battle

Updated 18 min 16 sec ago
0

Key ministers back British PM in Brexit battle

  • Michael Gove, a Vote Leave figurehead in Britain’s 2016 EU membership referendum had stayed ominously silent as his colleagues quit around him
  • Asked Friday if he had confidence in May, Michael Gove said: I absolutely do. It’s absolutely vital that we focus on getting the right deal in the future

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May received the backing of the last remaining pro-Brexit heavyweights in her cabinet on Friday as she battled to salvage her EU divorce deal and her job.
After a tumultuous Thursday in which four ministers resigned, MPs slammed her draft agreement and members of her own party plotted to oust her, May received key support from the top Brexiteers left in her government.
All eyes were on Environment Secretary Michael Gove, a Vote Leave figurehead in Britain’s 2016 EU membership referendum, who had stayed ominously silent as his colleagues quit around him.
But, asked Friday if he had confidence in May, he said: “I absolutely do. It’s absolutely vital that we focus on getting the right deal in the future.”
Many media outlets reported that Gove had earlier rejected an offer to replace Dominic Raab, whose decision Thursday to quit as Brexit minister over the EU deal sparked fears the government could collapse.
Raab was replaced on Friday by Stephen Barclay, a previously little-known junior health minister and former insurance lawyer who supported Brexit in the referendum.
In an article last year, the Financial Times said Barclay was “a key interlocutor in crucial Brexit planning” and had impressed in financial circles.
Euroskeptics in May’s Conservative party meanwhile plotted to unseat her by tabling letters of no confidence in her leadership.
But International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, another leading Brexit supporter, backed her and her deal.
“A deal is better than no deal — businesses do require certainty,” he said. “What we need now is stability.”
Seeking to win over the public, May made a rare outing on a radio phone-in.
“I truly believe this is the best deal for Britain,” May said of the proposed EU withdrawal agreement.
She added that she was “very sorry” that ministers including Raab had quit.
She also faced comparisons with prime minister Neville Chamberlain and his 1938 appeasement of Nazi Germany’s dictator Adolf Hitler.
“We are not going to be locked in forever to something that we don’t want,” May insisted.
Brexiteer MPs fear the deal would keep Britain shackled to Brussels long after Brexit on March 29, 2019.
EU supporters say it would leave the UK on worse terms than it has inside the bloc and are calling for a second Brexit referendum to break the logjam.
Later on Friday, May brought an anti-Brexit former minister back into her government.
Amber Rudd, who quit as interior minister in a scandal over immigration earlier this year, replaces Esther McVey, who quit as work and pensions minister over May’s Brexit plan on Thursday.
Despite the support from Gove and Fox, May could yet face a vote of no confidence from her own MPs.
At least 48 Conservative MPs are required to submit letters of no confidence in the party leader to trigger a vote, and 22 have publicly confirmed they had done so.
If May wins such a vote, she cannot be challenged for 12 months.
May’s Conservatives have no majority in parliament’s lower House of Commons, but govern through an agreement with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
However, DUP lawmakers were among MPs from all sides who lined up in the chamber on Thursday to warn they could not support her Brexit deal.
The pound slumped on Thursday amid fears the turmoil at Westminster could result in Britain leaving the EU with no deal, but rebounded slightly on Friday.
The 585-page draft deal aims to ensure a smooth divorce from the EU after more than four decades of membership and outlines a transition period for both sides.
Key provisions seek to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, protect citizens’ rights and settle Britain’s outstanding payments to the bloc.
EU member states have until Tuesday to examine the deal and to agree the wording of a parallel political statement setting out goals for the bloc’s future relations with London.
A special EU summit to seal the hard-fought Brexit agreement is scheduled for November 25.
French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said Brexit advocates who peddled an “absurd political promise” must now choose to either accept the deal or face “economic disaster.”