Australian PM survives leadership challenge but threat remains

Malcolm Turnbull sees off attempted coup by Peter Dutton but could face another vote soon

Australia’s prime minister Malcolm Turnbull  takes part in a press conference in Canberra on Tuesday. Photograph: Sean Davey/AFP/Getty Images

Australia’s prime minister Malcolm Turnbull takes part in a press conference in Canberra on Tuesday. Photograph: Sean Davey/AFP/Getty Images

 

Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has survived an internal party challenge to his leadership by 48 votes to 35.

There had been growing speculation about Mr Turnbull’s future after he was forced to drop a policy on carbon emissions on Monday, due to lack of support from within the ruling Liberal-National coalition. The government has a one-seat majority in parliament and could not risk its own MPs crossing the floor in a vote.

Mr Turnbull brought matters to a head by announcing that his position as leader of the Liberal Party was vacant, and was challenged by the minister for home affairs, Peter Dutton, who is from the conservative wing of the party.

Having lost the challenge and resigned as minister, Mr Dutton gave a press conference which he opened by saying “It’s good to be in front of the cameras where I can smile and maybe show a different side to what I show when I talk about border protection.”

He said his challenge had not come about because of any personal ill will. “I made a decision not because I had any animosity towards Malcolm Turnbull, I made a decision to contest this ballot because I want to make sure we can keep [Labor Party leader] Bill Shorten from ever being prime minister of this country.”

Mr Shorten later used question time in parliament to call for a vote of no confidence in Mr Turnbull. “Australia has a prime minister in name only. Without power, without policies . . . This is a narcissistic government consumed with their own jobs and their own struggles and they have forgotten the people of Australia. The conduct of this narcissistic government is both shocking and selfish, and undervalues the Australian people,” Mr Shorten said.

‘Malcolm Terminal’

Mr Turnbull survived the no confidence vote along party lines, though he was taunted from the opposition benches that he is “Malcolm Terminal” and “like a carcass swinging in the wind”.

Deputy Liberal Party leader and minister for foreign affairs Julie Bishop welcomed the outcome of the internal vote, saying “the result today was an overwhelming vote of support for the prime minister”.

But the narrowness of the margin – if seven people changed their vote, Australia would now have its fifth prime minister in five years – will not be enough to deter the conservative side of the Liberal Party. In his press conference, Mr Dutton refused five times to rule out challenging Mr Turnbull again.

No Australian prime minister has served a full term since 2007. Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd was deposed by Julia Gillard in 2010. Ms Gillard was in turn deposed by Mr Rudd in 2013. Liberal prime minister Tony Abbott was deposed by Mr Turnbull in 2015.

In 2009, when the Liberal Party was in opposition, Mr Abbott deposed Mr Turnbull in an internal coup that has now become a regular feature of Australian political life.