Australia has new prime minister after Liberal power struggle


Australia has a new prime minister, its sixth in less than 10 years, after a schism over leadership and direction. 

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Scott Morrison, who was treasurer, has replaced former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Both belong to the ruling Liberal Party, which has been beset by recent infighting.

Turnbull resigned after a majority of MPs expressed no confidence in him. Members of the party then had to choose in a three way contest between Morrison, foreign minister Julie Bishop and powerful figure on the party’s right, Peter Dutton.

Dutton, until recently in charge of the so-called “super ministry” of Home Affairs, challenged Turnbull, who is considered a moderate, on August 21 (see earlier WikiTribune report).

In that vote, the then prime minister, retained his position by a margin of just seven. Turnbull claimed victory and attempted to continue governing, announcing changes to a proposed tax policy.

But rumours of another challenge in the works persisted. When Dutton stated clearly his intention to mount a second challenge, Turnbull dug in, seeking legal advice from Australia’s top lawyer, the solicitor general. He was looking for information about Dutton’s eligibility sit in parliament, as questions had been raised about a possible conflict of interest arising from his stake in a child care company which does business with the government.

Turnbull, rather than simply calling another meeting and allowing a secret vote,and demanded if signatures of at least half of his parliamentary party (43) be presented before he called a meeting.  At that meeting, he promised that if a “spill” motion were moved would resign, not just as party leader, but from the parliament as well, meaning the government would lose its one seat majority and rely on the votes of the speaker to pass legislation, until a by-election were held in his (safely conservative) seat of Wentworth in Sydney’s east.

The following day, however, solicitor general’s advice came back in Dutton’s favour saying he was “not ineligible”. Dutton brought forward a document with the minimum of 43, and Turnbull called the meeting.  While Turnbull delayed, however, the moderate camp he had lead had corralled votes around Scott Morrison, seen as his loyal deputy, to see off the challenge from the party right and Dutton in particular, whose low approval ratings were seen to make him an electoral liability.

On Friday (August 24) a second vote was held and Morrison won by 45 to 40. At his first news conference as the nation’s leader, he promised to “heal” conflicts within his party. He also pledged to tackle a devastating drought. Many Australians feel their politicians have been more focused on internal maneuvering than finding solutions to pressing problems (New York Times).

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A former Liberal Party leader, John Hewson, told broadcaster SBS that the Liberal turmoil had been driven by personal vendettas, not policy differences. “This is not a policy event,” he said.

On August 26, Bishop announced she would resign from cabinet but stay on as a backbench MP.

Julie Bishop on Twitter

Today I advised the Prime Minister that I will be resigning from my Cabinet position as Minister for Foreign Affairs. It has been an honour.

The new Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison attends a swearing-in ceremony as his wife Jenny looks on, in Canberra, Australia August 24, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray

 

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