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Back September 15th, 2015 Forward
So, We Have a New Prime Minister

As many of you will know, Malcolm Turnbull did the people of Australia (as well as his own ego) a profound service yesterday by successfully challenging Tony Abbott for the leadership of the Liberal Party. He's now the Prime Minister designate, and the country is still a little giddy with relief (or at least, this particular bit of it is).

Some brief explanation for those who aren't aware how a parliamentary system works. Despite what Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey were saying yesterday in their press conferences, the role of Prime Minister is not a "gift" of the Australian people. In fact, constitutionally speaking, the role of Prime Minister is actually a very real "gift" of the Governor-General, in that if you read the strict letter of the constitution the GG gets to choose the inhabitant of the role without reference to any external forces whatsoever[1]. By convention, however, the Governor-General usually gives the role to the parliamentary leader of the political party with the functional majority in the Federal House of Representatives. The Australian people, in fact, have their role in the process cease entirely once they've elected their local members of the House of Representatives.

Tony Abbott may have said he was elected by the Australian people. This was an exaggeration at best, since the only people in Australia who had a direct hand in his election are the voters for the House of Representatives seat of Warringah (in Sydney), many of whom would probably vote in a dead emu should one be stood as a candidate by the Liberal Party, and the members of the Parliamentary Liberal Party during a leadership ballot back in December 2009 (by one vote).

In the vote last night, Malcolm Turnbull won the leadership of the Liberal Party by a comfortable 10 vote margin (54 votes to 44) and should therefore be reasonably safe from predation within his own party. The Nationals will probably fall into line (since their alternative is parliamentary irrelevance) and agree to remain in the Coalition, which means the Liberal/National coalition government retains a functional majority in the House of Representatives, and Malcolm Turnbull becomes the Prime Minister of Australia (and about our fourth one in a two year period... it's been a good time for political journalists).

Tony Abbott is no longer Prime Minister, and while he still holds the office of Minister for the status of Women (unfortunately) until at least the end of the week - Mr Turnbull has said he's not going to be re-shuffling ministries until the parliamentary week is over - he probably isn't likely to get a major ministry in the new cabinet. He remains the member for Warringah, unless he chooses to resign from that role and precipitate another by-election (or unless the Warringah branch of the Liberals get polling results which indicate the aforementioned dead emu will do better).

Policy-wise, Mr Turnbull has indicated his government is going to be very much "meet the new boss, same as the old boss", which is disappointing, but only to be expected at this stage. However, his presence at the helm rather than Tony Abbott's has immediately boosted the Liberal Party's chances of being re-elected at the next federal election (which is still scheduled for late 2016), particularly if their major rivals, the Australian Labor Party fail to either pull a leadership re-shuffle of their own (the current leader, Bill Shorten, has all the personality and political forcefulness of damp newspaper; he might have won on a platform of "at least I'm not Tony Abbott", but only if he were the only one occupying that particular platform) or come up with some policy points which demonstrate an appreciable difference from the Coalition. Given the chances of a leadership re-shuffle in the ALP are currently minimal (the last-PM-but-one, Kevin Rudd, put some nice little traps in place to make re-shuffling the ALP leadership a lot harder than it used to be) it's looking at this point like we can expect to see the Liberals re-elected at the 2016 elections (and certainly we're more likely to see a comfortable win for the Liberals in this weekend's by-election in the seat of Canning).


[1] This has been tried precisely once in the history of Australia as a nation. Google "Whitlam dismissal" for an explanation of what happened.

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Current Mood: relieved relieved
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