Home >News >World >Malcolm Turnbull defeats Tony Abbott in party vote to become Australian PM
Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s incoming prime minister, reacts during a news conference after winning a party leadership ballot in Canberra, on 14 September. Photo: Bloomberg
Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s incoming prime minister, reacts during a news conference after winning a party leadership ballot in Canberra, on 14 September. Photo: Bloomberg

Malcolm Turnbull defeats Tony Abbott in party vote to become Australian PM

Turnbull won the secret party vote by 54 to 44

Canberra: Australia’s new prime minister has a little over a year to resurrect the government’s fortunes, having ousted his predecessor in a late night ballot of party lawmakers. His task from day one is to fix an economy battered by the slowdown in China.

Former Cabinet minister Malcolm Turnbull, 60, emerged the victor late on Monday after challenging Tony Abbott, 57, for the Liberal Party leadership, capping weeks of speculation that another Australian prime minister was about to be ousted by his own ranks.

With an election due by next year the former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. executive must turn around the government’s poor ratings, caused by missteps by the combative and gaffe-prone Abbott. While he enjoys strong public support, Turnbull may struggle to reunite his party after a vote in which nearly half the lawmakers picked Abbott to stay, and with some senior ministers expected to step aside.

“Australians will give him a chance to show he can lead," said Haydon Manning, a politics professor at Flinders University in Adelaide. “Turnbull’s biggest test will be his capacity to cross the divide within his own party. The only way to ease that bitterness will be a good performance that will see opinion polls improve ahead of the election."

Turnbull will be Australia’s sixth prime minister in eight years, extending a period of revolving-door leadership in Australia that saw the now-opposition Labor dump two of his predecessors—Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard—and embark on infighting that helped contribute to its election loss in 2013.

Consultative leader

The new leader is expected to escape the barrage of public criticism that followed the removal of Rudd in 2010, the first such ousting of a first-term sitting prime minister. “The key difference is that Australian voters have seen this coming, whereas they did not see the removal of Kevin Rudd," Manning said.

Rather, his own ranks could be his biggest enemy, given some Liberal lawmakers regard him with suspicion for his left-leaning views on issues such as climate change.

Turnbull, who won the ballot 54 votes to 44, said he’d be a consultative leader who would explain his economic vision to voters. The make-up of his ministry will be announced after this week. He said it was his assumption that the current parliament would serve its full term.

“We need to have in this country, and we will have now, the economic vision, a leadership that explains the great challenges and opportunities that we face," Turnbull told reporters after the ballot. “The Australia of the future has to be a nation that is agile, that is innovative, that is creative. We cannot be defensive, we cannot future-proof ourselves."

Ministerial changes

Foreign minister Julie Bishop was voted back in as deputy leader of the Liberals, a role she has served under three previous leaders, including Abbott. Speculation is mounting that Turnbull will axe Joe Hockey as treasurer after the world’s 12th- largest economy lost traction under his watch, with Social Services Minister Scott Morrison tipped as his replacement.

“It’s going to be hard to unite the party," political analyst Stephen Stockwell of Brisbane’s Griffith University said by phone. Still, Turnbull will have “a strong mandate to modernize the Australian economy."

Business leaders have been critical of the government’s lack of resolve to overhaul an outdated tax system and labor market—reforms seen as essential to an economy experiencing its weakest run of growth since the 1991 recession.

Australia is the world’s most China-dependent developed nation and slumping commodity prices caused by slower growth in demand for its resource exports have hurt the economy. It expanded just 0.2% in the second quarter from the first three months, and was saved from a contraction by an uptick in defence spending.

A lack of investment and confidence has flowed through to slower employment growth, nudging up the country’s jobless rate and pushing down wages growth to recessionary levels.

The ballot ended Abbott’s leadership after just two years in power. He angered the public with unflagged spending cuts in his first budget in May 2014, while his decision to bestow a knighthood on Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Philip in January was ridiculed and exacerbated a perception he was out of touch with public opinion.

Having narrowly seen off a leadership challenge in February, Abbott failed to lift the ruling coalition’s popularity. A Newspoll published in The Australian newspaper this month put support for the government at 46% against the opposition’s 54%. The survey showed 41% of voters preferred Labor leader Bill Shorten as prime minister, against Abbott on 37%. Turnbull’s popularity in polls has been about three times that of Abbott.

“Abbott’s leadership has been a problem," said Zareh Ghazarian, a Melbourne-based politics professor at Monash University. “There have been a series of leadership gaffes that he has made. These things have to an extent alienated a chunk of his own party."

Turnbull has an impressive resume: before winning a Sydney- based parliamentary seat in 2004 he was a Rhodes Scholar, political journalist, successful lawyer and Goldman Sachs executive. He led an unsuccessful push for the nation to become a republic in 1999—a cause he still supports and one that Abbott had rejected as party policy.

‘Honeymoon period’

He was Liberal leader for 15 months while the party was in opposition before being ousted by Abbott by one vote in December 2009. His social agenda is seen as more centrist than that of Abbott, a former trainee Jesuit priest who opposes same-sex marriage and scrapped the previous Labor government’s carbon- price mechanism.

“Turnbull should get a honeymoon period and give the government a quick bounce in the polls," said Paul Williams, a political analyst at Griffith University. “He’s a good communicator and is more popular with voters than Abbott."

Even so, “Turnbull still faces a huge challenge to heal what’s obviously a split party and gain enough momentum to win the next election." Bloomberg

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