A stalemate has occurred in the Liberal leadership crisis that began this week when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called a spill at the Tuesday Liberal partyroom meeting. Then Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton stood against Turnbull with the result 48-35 in Turnbull’s favour. But the fact that Dutton was able to muster 35 votes in a surprise spill Turnbull was seen to have mortally wounded him.
With history showing it takes two strikes to take down a Prime Minister there had been rampant speculation about when the next spill would occur. Peter Dutton after moving to the backbench spent Wednesday making his pitch for Prime Minister, however his policy proposal to remove the GST from household electricity bill was viewed as policy on the run with no thought on how it could be implemented when the states would lose revenue.
Another twist has Peter Dutton being under a Section 44 cloud due to his owning a childcare company held in family trust which receives federal government funding. A person is disqualified from sitting in federal parliament if they have direct or indirect pecuniary interest in the crown by receiving commonwealth funds. Turnbull referred the matter to the Solicitor-General for advice but not the High Court.
Turnbull appeared at press conference Wednesday afternoon with Treasurer Scott Morrison and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann who pledged their support for the Prime Minister. The Ministers who offered their resignations after supporting Peter Dutton but in the end stayed on pledged their loyalty to the leader in Question Time.
With Dutton having an ordinary day and Turnbull appearing to shore up his support it appeared momentum for a second spill had subsided. However on Wednesday night a petition began circulating among Liberal MPs calling for a partyroom meeting to bring on another spill. It slowly gained signatures throughout the night. The Whip Nola Marino and Malcolm Turnbull said one would not be called unless it had 43 signatures, a majority of the partyroom before holding a meeting.
This morning Peter Dutton announced he was having a second tilt at the leadership and called on the Prime Minister to hold another partyroom meeting. Then later in the morning the Liberal Senate leadership Mathias Cormann, Mitch Fifield and Michaelia Cash held a joint press conference saying they no longer could support Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership and called on him to resign.
Malcolm Turnbull held a press conference at 1pm announcing he would hold a partyroom meeting at 12pm Friday if Peter Dutton’s supporters could get the 43 signatures on the petition. He said that if the partyroom meeting takes place he would not contest it and would subsequently resign as the Member for Wentworth triggering a by-election hence putting the Coalition’s one seat majority in jeopardy.
Turnbull reiterated Dutton’s Section 44 cloud and blamed the current leadership turmoil on conservative Liberal MPs and their supporters in the media (ie Murdoch papers, Sky News and 2GB) claiming they wanted to take the Liberal Party further to the right and that this leadership push involved intimidation and bullying.
Turnbull was clear that he would not be going anywhere unless a majority of his colleagues were willing to put their name to paper to tell him to go. Given that leadership votes are secret ballots many have frowned upon Turnbull asking for a public vote of no confidence from his colleagues. The petition at the time of writing has 42 signatures, 1 short of what is needed to trigger the meeting.
Following Turnbull’s announcement that if the partyroom meeting does occur at 12pm Friday he will not contest it has opened up the likelihood that Turnbull’s remaining backers Deputy Julie Bishop and Scott Morrison will contest the leadership against the conservatives’ choice Peter Dutton. Tony Abbott so far has said he will no contest. A three way contest involving a conservative in Dutton, a lite conservative in Morrison and a moderate in Bishop is entirely unpredictable.
Both the moderate and conservative factions in the Liberal Party have blamed each other for the situation and accused the other of wanting to destroy the Liberal Party if they do not get their way. Given that this is the messiest leadership spill we have seen over the past decade, whoever takes over is almost destined to take the Coalition to defeat, and a very large one.
Whoever takes over also has the task of attempting to mend an almost entirely fractured Liberal Party and the broader center-right movement in Australia. The only winner it seems at the moment is the left in Australia with Labor set to easily win the next election and implement a far-left progressive agenda.
As 12pm Friday looms the Unshackled will keep you updated and go live if possible. Anything could still happen, Australia even in our most recent political history has not seen a crisis such as this.