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Julia Gillard has agreed to a historic pact with the Australian Greens in a bid to end the nation’s parliamentary deadlock, promising action on climate change in return for guaranteed support to govern.

The deal includes the establishment of a climate change committee to consider a price on carbon, big changes to the rules on political donations and a major parliamentary debate on the war in Afghanistan.

The Greens will, in effect, have more power than Labor backbenchers, with a promise of regular briefings from the Treasurer and the Finance Minister and the secretaries of their departments as part of the budget process.

When parliament is sitting, the Prime Minister will meet Greens leader Bob Brown and lower house MP Adam Bandt each week to work on the legislative agenda.

The alliance has sparked opposition condemnation, with Tony Abbott describing it as the product of a secret deal reached before the August 21 election.

The Opposition Leader has accused Senator Brown of acting in bad faith and savaged Labor as soulless, corrupt and undeserving of power.

Independent MP Tony Windsor last night told the ABC the Labor-Greens deal would not sway the independents’ decision on which major party to back.

As the four independent MPs with the power to anoint the next government were briefed by Treasury officials on the cost of the election promises of the major parties, the Prime Minister said she had agreed to create a multi-party parliamentary committee to chart the path to putting a price on carbon.

Labor would also deliver parliamentary reforms, boost spending on dental care, move towards creating a high-speed interstate rail line and give the Greens weekly briefings on government activities and finances.

In return, the Greens would back Labor’s budget bills and reject any no-confidence motions.

The deal does not bind Labor to deliver any of the Greens’ more contentious policies, such as support for same-sex marriage, higher taxes on the mining industry or onshore processing of asylum-seekers.

Labor has designed the deal partly to demonstrate to the independents that it can command co-operation from the Greens, advancing its claim to have a better chance than the Coalition of providing stable government.

However, it could also expose Labor to accusations that it is prepared to compromise too much to retain power and open it to attacks from the Right in the next election.

Mr Abbott seized on news of the deal to warn of a new “Labor-Greens coalition” that would hammer rural and regional Australia.

The Coalition increased pressure on the country independents to side with the opposition, arguing the Labor-Greens alliance would place miners’ jobs at risk and usher in bans on recreational fishing and a softer policy on boatpeople. Nationals senator Ron Boswell said Labor risked an assault from the Right and losing its blue-collar vote because of the alliance’s impact on fishing and mining jobs.

Ms Gillard rejected the claims as dishonest scaremongering.

Senator Brown, declaring the start of a new era in national politics, promised that, whoever formed government, the Greens were about to inject new “sparkle” into the nation’s political system.

The Labor-Greens deal means Labor, which won 72 of the 150 House of Representatives seats in the election, can now add Melbourne Greens MP Adam Bandt to its lower house total for the purposes of confidence motions and budget bills.

While Mr Bandt will be free to vote according to his whims on other issues, his vote will bring Labor level with the Coalition, which expects to command 73 votes, including West Australian National Tony Crook, who is yet to decide whether to sit with the Coalition or on the cross benches, but is certain not to back Labor.

This will leave the four independents — Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott, Bob Katter and Andrew Wilkie — with the final decision on which of the major parties will form government.

Senator Brown said he had first put the idea of the climate change committee to Ms Gillard a few days ago and had not put “pre-conditions” on the deal such as securing a carbon price within the next three years. He said he was not disappointed that Labor had not agreed to embrace Greens positions on issues such as gay marriage and refugees and had not sought a cabinet seat as part of the deal. “We think it’s great, we’re very happy with it,” Senator Brown said.

Mr Abbott said it was clear the two parties had arranged a power-sharing deal before the election.

The Opposition Leader said Senator Brown had a reputation for integrity but had “thrown a lifeline” to Labor without offering the Coalition the same opportunity for talks.

Mr Abbott said he would continue talks with the independents and that the Coalition had shown in the past it was capable of dealing professionally with any Senate configuration. He added that Ms Gillard’s agreement to establish the parliamentary committee on climate change was a direct breach of her election promise to create a citizens’ assembly on the issue, which he said demonstrated Labor was prepared to “junk” any commitment in its pursuit of power.

The Australian, 2 September 2010