Embattled Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull survived a leadership challenge from within his own party today as discontent with his rule boiled over less than a year before national elections. Turnbull, considered a moderate, declared his position vacant at a Liberal party meeting to force the issue after rampant speculation that the more hardline Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton wanted his job, with the government consistently trailing the Labor opposition in opinion polls. The disunity came to a head on Monday when Turnbull was forced to shelve plans to embed carbon emissions targets in law after a revolt by fellow Liberal politicians. Party whip Nola Marino told reporters Dutton challenged but Turnbull won 48-35.
“The result of that ballot was Malcolm Turnbull was elected leader of the Liberal Party by a margin of 48-35, with Peter Dutton as the other candidate,” she said. “There was also an election for the deputy leader. [Foreign Minister] Julie Bishop was the one person who nominated for that role and she’s the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party.”
Asked what Turnbull said after winning, she replied: “This was conducted by way of precedent and he thanked his colleagues for their support and will get on with the business now of governing in the interests of all Australians.” Yesterday Turnbull had declared he had Dutton’s “full support”. After losing Dutton, a former police officer who ran a powerful department that oversees the country’s domestic spy service, border force and national police, quit and moved to the backbench, broadcaster ABC reported.
It is the latest chapter in a turbulent period for Australian politics. Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was ousted by his deputy Julia Gillard in 2010. He later returned the favour and stormed back to power in 2013 shortly before losing the election to Tony Abbott’s Liberal/National coalition. Abbott was then unseated in a party coup by Turnbull in 2015.
Abbott is now a vocal backbencher and is widely seen as a key instigator of the move against the prime minister this week, which has left Turnbull heading a party where 35 people do not want him as leader. Abbott was in charge when Canberra agreed to cut emissions by 26 percent by 2030 as part of the so-called Paris Agreement. But he has since railed against the commitment he made.
He argued it should not be enshrined in law as part of the government’s new energy policy, known as the National Energy Guarantee (NEG), with consumers facing soaring electricity prices. Disquiet with Turnbull has been building in recent months, with the government trailing Labor in 38 consecutive opinion polls. The latest yesterday showed it lagging even further behind — 45 to 55 percent on a two-party basis — with national elections due by the middle of next year.