Australia PM rules out early poll after government loses majority in damaging by-election

Australia was spared another leadership competition as Scott Morrison, its prime minister, pledged yesterday (SUN) that his embattled government would serve out a full term.

The announcement came as the conservative coalition looked set to lose its majority after a voter backlash in a crucial Sydney by-election.

The Liberal-National coalition, which has a one-seat parliamentary majority, appeared headed for minority government status after a huge swing in a traditionally safe seat, fuelled by anger over the ousting of former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in August.

But despite the Liberal candidate conceding defeat Saturday after high-profile independent Kerryn Phelps captured an apparently insurmountable lead in the seat of Wentworth, the count has narrowed sharply as postal votes are counted.

While most analysts said it appeared likely Ms Phelps would hold on to the win, Mr Morrison struck a more upbeat tone.

The prime minister, who must call national elections by mid-May, acknowledged voter anger over political infighting in Canberra but said he was determined to stay on even if the coalition becomes a minority government.

"Australian people expect governments to serve their term. We are elected to serve our term and that is what we are going to do," he said.

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The by-election in the wealthy seat was triggered after Mr Turnbull, the local MP, resigned after being toppled in a party coup.

Mr Turnbull had held the seat with a comfortable margin of 18 percent, but support for the Liberals tumbled over his treatment.

Australia has been criticised for its "revolving door" approach to prime ministers, with the country having five leaders since 2013. 

Mr Morrison indicated he was willing to work with minor parties and independents to address what Phelps said would be the first item on her agenda – removing refugee children held in Australian detention camps on the Pacific island nation of Nauru.

Canberra sends asylum-seekers who try to reach the country by boat to remote Pacific facilities including on Nauru to deter them from trying to come to Australia.

There has been growing international and domestic pressure on Morrison to move the children to Australia amid reports they are suffering from serious health problems.

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