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How Australia’s unlikely kingmakers won it for Gillard

In a knife-edge race, the independent candidates have enjoyed their moment in the spotlight.

Australians are breathing a collective sigh of relief at finally having a government again, more than a fortnight on from the federal election. And more than a few will be rejoicing at their country's narrow escape from the clutches of the Coalition leader, Tony "Mad Monk" Abbott.

But you get the feeling that Australia's independent MPs -- Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Bob Katter, a politician whose devotion to his rural Queensland constituency of Kennedy has been somewhat overshadowed by his passion for the Akubra hat -- have been quite enjoying their moment in the sun. In a race so tight that every vote counted, Oakeshott was the last of the three to declare which party he would back -- an announcement he managed to keep back right to the end of a 17-minute speech.

To be fair, the speech was a pretty good one: his points about a new paradigm for Australian politics and the importance of regional and rural education were worth making, and Oakeshott made them well. But he's been offered a role on PM Julia Gillard's front bench already; maybe he could have saved some of them for later?

Still, compared to Katter, Oakeshott has been a model of restraint throughout the election (you might describe Windsor as monk-like by comparison, if monks didn't signify frenzy in the Australian political context). Katter has been basking in the media glow like an elderly behatted guana, defending his past comments about "the poof population of North Queensland" (non-existent, apparently), calling for the protection of local bananas and sugar, and denying that he has been having fun in the spotlight over the past couple of weeks ("I'm used to power").

This election has rested on a knife edge and the minority government's margin of power couldn't be slimmer. Even so, Gillard might be just a little bit relieved that Katter didn't side with her team in the end.

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