Greens party agree to help Labor Party form Australia's first minority government since 1943

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A Greens lawmaker agreed Wednesday to help the center-left Labor Party form a minority Australian government in a climate-focused alliance while other kingmaker legislators said they are close to deciding whether to back Labor or a conservative coalition.

Greens member Adam Bandt is the first of five lawmakers from outside the major parties to announce which side they will support to form a government after Aug. 21 elections failed to deliver a winner for the first time in 70 years.

Labor now would need an additional three seats to form a minority government — as would the conservative coalition — but Labor controls the caretaker administration in the meantime under Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

In return for the support of newly elected Bandt, Gillard has agreed to a range of Greens demands including establishing an expert committee to investigate how Australia could introduce a tax for carbon gas pollution and allowing a parliamentary debate on the future of Australia's deployment of 1,550 troops to Afghanistan.

Still pivotal in the quest to rule are a trio of rural independents who are all former members of a conservative party and who are negotiating with the two sides as a bloc.

Gillard said she did not believe the early deal with the left-wing Greens would affect Labor's chances of winning the support of the rural independents. She said she had forwarded each of the independents details of the pact.

"They understand that anybody seeking stable and effective government in these circumstances is going to be talking to a range of people," Gillard told reporters.

Greens leader Sen. Bob Brown said he expected the deal would prompt the independents to make their own decisions.

The Greens' support bolsters Labor's claim for a mandate to form a minority government because it brings the number of lawmakers under Gillard's control in the 150-seat House of Representatives to 73.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott's conservative Liberal Party-led coalition also holds 73 seats, and both sides are negotiating with independents to gain more seats.

Abbott said the Labor-Greens deal meant that a Labor government would impose a carbon tax on Australians, increase taxes on mining profits and reduce government funding for private schools.

"Clearly the Greens will be in the driver's seat of any renewed Gillard government," Abbott told reporters.

Environmental group Greenpeace in a statement welcomed the deal as "a turning point for long delayed action on climate change."

Abbott said he was having "good discussions" with the trio of independents in his bid to become prime minister. The three were being briefed by Treasury and Finance Department bureaucrats on Wednesday on how much the major parties' competing election promises were likely to cost government coffers.

One of the trio, Bob Katter, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio on Wednesday he was "a hair's breadth away" from making a decision.

An independent outside the bloc, Andrew Wilkie — who quit his job as a defense intelligence analyst in 2003 in protest against the then-government's explanation for sending 2,000 Australian troops to back U.S. and British forces in the Iraq invasion — had hoped to make a decision by Wednesday, but now expected to take another day or two.

He described an offer made by Gillard for his support as "unsatisfactory." Wilkie, a former Greens candidate, said he had yet to receive an offer from Abbott.

The environment-focused Greens were long considered the most likely to side with Labor because Abbott is opposed to ever making Australia's major polluters pay for the global warming gases that they emit.

Labor ruled for three years until the election and remains Australia's caretaker government until Gillard or Abbott can strike a deal with independents to command 76 seats. If neither leader can command a majority, fresh elections will be called.