Another Australian Prime Minister Is Ousted by His Own Party

Malcolm Turnbull is the fourth prime minister to be dumped by his or her own party before serving a full term since the leader-swapping trend began in 2010

What to Know

  • Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull was replaced by Scott Morrison Friday, after being dumped by his own party
  • Turnbull is the fourth PM to be pushed out by his party before serving a full term since 2010
  • Many Australians voiced frustration in the aftermath of the move, particularly about voting and having their choice overturned

Australia's new Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday promised a stable government at the end of a tumultuous week in which his predecessor was forced out of office, 13 ministers resigned and Parliament was shut down for an afternoon.

Disgruntled government lawmakers forced former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull from office on Friday, arguing that most had lost faith in his leadership. Turnbull became the fourth prime minister dumped by their own party since 2010 in an extraordinary period of political instability that frustrates most Australians.

Morrison distanced himself from the turmoil, saying he had not been part of the push led by fellow lawmaker Peter Dutton to oust Turnbull over four chaotic days that was inspired by a feud between hard-right conservatives and moderates.

"We will provide the stability and the unity and the direction and the purpose that the Australian people expect of us," Morrison told reporters.

"The work of government continues. I want to assure all Australians that those normal wheels are turning," he added.

The political civil war has shocked business and industry that want crucial energy and tax policy reforms finalized. It's also an international embarrassment for a nation that prides itself on being a safe and stable democracy in which to invest.

It is not clear who if anyone will take Turnbull's place on an important trip he planned next week to regional neighbors Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, which would end at an annual forum of 18 Pacific island nations on Nauru on Sept. 5.

Morrison has been dubbed the "accidental prime minister" because he had no plans to nominate until Thursday when Turnbull declared he would not recontest his job. Morrison on Friday declined to detail any policy changes that he might make.

He played down speculation that he might call an election before it's due early next year.

"We intend to be governing ... so I don't think anybody should be making any plans for any elections any time soon," Morrison said.

Turnbull said he would quit politics "not before too long."

His resignation would cause a by-election that could cost the government its single-seat majority. It could also provide an incentive to call an early election.

Turnbull, a centrist leader who takes credit for Australia legalizing gay marriage, blamed his downfall on a campaign by hard-right lawmakers backed by "powerful voices" in the conservative media.

"There was a determined insurgency from a number of people," Turnbull said. "It was extraordinary. It was described as madness by many and I think it's difficult to describe it in any other way," Turnbull said.

Turnbull said he was impressed by his party's decision not to reward Dutton and to elect Morrison, whom he descried as a "very loyal and effective treasurer." Morrison defeated Dutton 45 votes to 40.

Dutton's failure prevents the Australian policy shifting to the hard right, although there has been little policy discussion in the leadership struggle.

Dutton later suggested that the crisis was driven by personalities rather than policy differences.

"For me, I only ever nominated because I believed I was a better person and a person of greater strength and integrity to lead the Liberal Party," Dutton told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Morrison was officially sworn in as prime minister later Friday and his deputy leader Josh Frydenberg as treasurer, Morrison's old portfolio. Morrison said the rest of his Cabinet would be sworn in next week.

Dutton's and Turnbull's camps waged the most chaotic, frenetic and at times farcical leadership struggle that Australian politics has seen in years, closing down Parliament on Thursday so that the government could focus on it its rapidly escalating internal crisis.

Parliament does not sit again until Sept. 10.

Turnbull's leadership was vulnerable because his government was trailing in opinion polls. Analysts expect the polling to worsen due to the clumsy and bungled way the leadership was challenged.

In Australia's far north, Darwin's Northern Territory News ran a front-page message for the nation's ruling politicians on Friday, as they mobilized in Canberra to give the country its sixth prime minister in just 11 years.

"HANG YOUR HEADS IN SHAME" it said, describing events in the capital this week — in which the ruling Liberal Party switched its leader and thereby changed prime ministers — as "nothing short of disgraceful."

Online, an Australian satirical website, The Shovel, summed up the national mood in a more humorous manner in a story headlined "Nation Just So Over This."

It quoted a so-called spokesperson for the nation as saying to politicians: "We don't care about your ridiculous little arguments and pathetic personal grudges. Without wanting to sound old fashioned, can you just do your job?"

Australia's latest leadership switch — in which Malcolm Turnbull was replaced by Scott Morrison in an internal party coup — has struck a particularly sour note among a populace typically well educated in politics, but increasingly disillusioned with the actions of those it elects.

In the local vernacular, many Australians say they've "had a gutful."

They're tired of voting in elections only to see their choice of leader overturned within the ruling party, usually for reasons of public popularity and the party's chances of re-election.

Turnbull is the fourth prime minister — from both the conservative Liberal Party and more leftist Labor Party — to be dumped by his or her own party before serving a full three-year term since this modern trend of leader-swapping began in 2010.

Some Australians used the latest internal party upheaval to poke fun. One set up a tongue-in-cheek Twitter account that names Australia's prime minister, with hourly updates. A popular meme circulated purporting to be a public service announcement: "Remember, Australia: Change of prime minister means change your smoke alarm battery."

Others struck a more serious tone, echoing the sentiments of the major headline from one of the country's biggest newspapers, the Sydney Morning Herald, which said: "Australian democracy is a laughing stock."

"It's just ridiculous," said Justina McAlister, a homemaker and mother from the Blue Mountains, near Sydney. "We all voted and had our say, but it just seems irrelevant.

"Who leads the country shouldn't be decided by a small group of men and women in a party room. The public doesn't know what really goes on in there, but you know it's not about policy. It's the party saying their leader mightn't be good for them at the next election. But surely we're the ones who get to make that choice — at an election."

Sydney workplace environment manager Darren Moore said it was nonsense for a party to claim they should be allowed to change leaders how they like on the grounds that the public had voted it in.

"Regardless of how our system works, most Australians vote for a personality who leads a party, rather than for the party itself," Moore said.

"It's got so cynical now that the politicians are coming out blatantly and saying they need to change leader in order to win the next election. Is that the sole focus? How about running and organizing the country?"

Adelaide business manager Dave Pearlman said such internal coups "could not be more dismissive of the people of the country."

"We need constitutional change so that to change prime ministers it must go to a general election," he said.

Stewart Jackson, a lecturer in government and international relations at Sydney University, said Australians are more disillusioned with this latest coup than the previous one, in which Turnbull himself ousted Tony Abbott in 2015.

He said the electorate then was disappointed Abbott had not delivered on several election promises and was largely accepting of the incoming Turnbull. He said this switch, which came with relatively little warning, was far more shocking, orchestrated as it was by disgruntled junior members of the government.

"Increasingly the public see these two major parties as treating politics as a game between the two of them," Jackson said.

"You've seen the party backbench destabilize a legitimate government. Most people have been left asking 'What's going on?' It's inexplicable."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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