Australian Opposition Claims Victory in Vote for Rudd’s Old Seat

Australia’s opposition party claimed victory in a special election for a district in Queensland previously held by Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s defeated opponent.

Labor’s Terri Butler, an employment lawyer, thanked voters on her Facebook page for her win in the Feb. 8 poll, even as the Liberal-National government refused to concede. With postal votes yet to be counted, Labor has 52.3 percent of the vote, the Australian Electoral Commission’s website showed yesterday. Liberal-National candidate Bill Glasson has 47.7 percent.

A Labor victory in the inner-city Brisbane seat of Griffith is “the most likely outcome,” George Brandis, the government’s attorney general and a Queensland senator, said on Sky News yesterday. Still, he said “it’s too early to declare victory or concede defeat.”

Abbott’s coalition has trailed in nationwide opinion polls since winning power in September, its popularity dented by domestic fiscal concerns. The government has announced the budget deficit will balloon to A$47 billion ($42 billion) this fiscal year from a previous forecast of A$30.1 billion, faced a spying scandal with Indonesia and reversed on a pre-election promise to match Labor’s pledge to increase education funding.

Labor leads the Liberal-National coalition by 3,099 votes, according to the electoral commission. Brandis said there are more than 10,000 postal and pre-ballot votes to be counted. Postal votes can be received as many as 13 days after the election although the result may be determined before that deadline, Phil Diak, a spokesman for the Australian Electoral Commission, said by phone.

Previous Failure

A Labor victory would see Labor maintain its 55 seats in the lower house of parliament, compared with the coalition’s 90. Glasson, a former president of the Australian Medical Association, failed to take Rudd’s seat in the September general election.

Rudd, who served as Australia’s prime minister twice before losing the Sept. 7 election, in November announced his retirement from politics, forcing the special election for his seat. He was replaced as party leader by former union official Bill Shorten.

It’s rare for a sitting Australian government to win special elections, which generally occur when a member retires or dies. In the years between 1901 and 2009, just five of 146 such elections have been lost by the opposition of the day, according to a Department of Parliamentary Services research paper.

While Abbott’s coalition has a majority in the lower house, he doesn’t control the upper house where the balance of power is now held by the Greens party and looks set to shift to small, center-right parties mid-year. That means the government’s bid to repeal Labor’s carbon-pricing mechanism and mining tax will probably be blocked until after July 1.

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