Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, suffering from approval rating slumps, saw her grip on parliament loosened after a lawmaker joined the opposition just as her government prepares to deliver the budget tomorrow.
Tony Crook, a National party member of parliament for Western Australia who voted as an independent, will sit with Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition when parliament reconvenes on May 8, Nationals Leader Warren Truss said in a statement on his website.
Crook has voted with Labor more than 30 times since the last federal election in 2010, according to the Australian newspaper. He has criticized Gillard’s Labor government over its carbon and mining tax policies, the newspaper reported yesterday.
Crook’s participation will boost the coalition to 72 seats in the House of Representatives. Labor, which has 71 seats, remains in control of the house through its deals with independents and the Greens party. The switch came as support for Labor fell to a near-record low in a Newspoll published in the Australian newspaper on May 1 amid lawmaker scandals.
After fending off a leadership challenge by predecessor Kevin Rudd in February, Gillard is concentrating on delivering on her pledge to end four years of deficits in the next fiscal year to win back support. She reiterated her promise yesterday to return the budget to surplus, saying the new budget will create “a buffer” if the global economy worsens in the future.
“Tony has made a decision that I am certain is in the best interests of his electorate of O’Connor and the nation,” Truss said in the statement published last week, referring to Crook, who had been sitting on the crossbenches since the 2010 election.
Gillard’s control of the 150-seat lower house became more tenuous when she told Labor lawmaker Craig Thomson this month to quit her party. Thomson has denied claims he used a labor union credit card to pay for prostitutes while working for the Health Services Union before becoming a lawmaker in 2007. Thomson says he will continue to vote with the government.
Gillard lost another vote when a Labor lawmaker replaced Parliamentary Speaker Peter Slipper, who stepped aside in April to deal with fraud and sexual harassment claims that he denies.
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