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Gillard Seeks to Boost Control as Speaker Quits, Abbott Says

Australia’s opposition leader, Tony Abbott, accused Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s minority government of trying to strengthen its control of parliament as a member of her Labor Party quit as speaker of the lower house.

“The speaker has resigned so that the government can shore up its numbers in the parliament,” Abbott told reporters in Canberra today.

Harry Jenkins resigned as the speaker today saying he was “frustrated” at his inability to take part in policy debates. If his deputy, opposition lawmaker Peter Slipper, is elected to the office, Gillard’s Labor Party would effectively gain a vote in the House of Representatives, while Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition would lose a vote. Australia’s constitution allows the speaker to vote only if the lower house is gridlocked.

Gillard formed a minority government last year following the closest parliamentary election in 70 years and relies on the backing of three independent lawmakers and one Greens Party member to pass legislation. If Slipper is elected speaker in a vote scheduled for 12:30 p.m. today, Gillard would have 76 votes in the lower house and the coalition 73, compared with the current margin of 75 to 74.

“The best outcome for the government now will be 76 to 73,” assuming the Greens member and three independents continue to vote with the government, said Rodney Smith, a political analyst at Sydney University. “It makes it certainly easier for the Labor government to gain a majority in the House of Representatives.”

The prime minister told the lower house she intended to make a statement on Jenkins’s resignation later today.

Abbott said it was the responsibility of the government to provide the speaker, who presides at meetings of the house and represents the chamber in dealings with the government.

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