After emerging victorious from last night’s leadership spill, Malcolm Turnbull has been sworn in as Australia’s 29th Prime Minister, barely two years after his predecessor Tony Abbott led the Liberal Party to victory in September 2013.
Despite increasingly ominous rumblings from the back bench and overt expressions of discontent from his cabinet, the former prime minister had dismissed as gossip the possibility that a second challenge to his leadership would emerge so soon after the abortive February coup. However, Monday morning saw gossip merge into uncomfortable reality as Federal Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull handed in his resignation and demanded that Abbott call a leadership ballot.
Moments after walking away from his ministerial portfolio, Turnbull issued an excoriating critique of the Abbott government, focusing primarily on its inability to provide sound economic leadership and its continued poor performance in the polls. It had been, he said, a difﬁcult decision to make, but one which was vital if the Labor Party was to be prevented from winning the next federal election. “We need advocacy, not slogans.” He said, alluding to Abbott’s highly divisive rhetorical style. “And we need a different style of leadership. We need a style of leadership that…explains the challenges and how to seize the opportunities, a style of leadership that respects the people’s intelligence.”
While insiders claim that Abbott was taken aback by Turnbull’s decision, the embattled leader was nevertheless quick to respond. “We are not the Labor Party.” He said, invoking the spectre of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd leadership crisis that had all-but crippled the last Labor government. “This country needs strong and stable government and that means avoiding at all costs Labor’s revolving-door prime ministership.”
Despite these grim prognostications, Abbott was unable to rally enough support from within the party to secure his position as its leader, loosing the leadership spill to Malcolm Turnbull last night by a ten point margin.
Shortly after noon today, Abbott – who had not yet spoken publicly about his defeat – addressed the nation for the last time as its Prime Minister. Angry and deﬁant, his concession speech paid no tribute – however grudging – to his successor and ignored the role he himself had played in losing the conﬁdence of his party and much of the electorate. Instead, he focused on his achievements – the free trade agreements, the refugee policy – and on those who had weakened his administration, particularly the media whose “poll driven panic” and “sour, bitter character assassinations” had made his position untenable.
As the new Turnbull administration readies itself for the upcoming election, the question remains: what will Abbott do next? Will he take up his position on the backbench and see out the rest of his term in quiet contemplation of his lot? Or will he, like Kevin Rudd, use his best endeavours to undermine the party and the individuals responsible for his downfall? In the context of what Abbott undoubtedly sees as a personal betrayal, of what value are his assurances that there will be no white-anting of the Turnbull government? Another possibility is that he may leave public ofﬁce altogether, causing a by-election in Warringah, the electorate he has served as a Federal Member of Parliament since 1994. Whatever he decides to do, the reality which Turnbull now has to face is a party riven by disunity and factionalism, a situation which is unlikely to improve with next week’s