Guest Author Sylvie Barber;
Teacher, Traveler, Musician, Increasingly disillusioned Australian Voter
There’s a joke in Australia…..a new Prime Minister? Must be time to check the batteries in your smoke alarms. Our second longest serving Prime Minister (and last to serve his full term in office) was John Howard who served in office from 1996-2007 (only superseded by Sir Robert Menzies, 1939-1941 and 1949-1966). Since then our politicians have made a sport out of saying one thing and then turning around and stabbing their colleagues in the back. And if recent history has taught us anything, it’s that things change very, very quickly in Canberra.
What’s happening in Canberra at the moment?
PM Malcom Turnbull and the Liberal Party (who are not very liberal at all…The Liberals are the right-wing party in Australia) in general have been dropping in recent opinion polls and they’ve struggled to pass certain legislation. In particular, Turnbull has struggled to find enough support within his own party for the National Energy Bill. This has made him, but also many of his colleagues, nervous because there is meant to be an election next year and they’re worried Liberal won’t have enough support to win. Therefore, many Liberal party members started murmuring about the need for new leadership. Attempting to get on the front foot, Turnbull surprised the party by declaring the leadership “open” on Tuesday morning and Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton put his hand up. He lost (35 to Turnbull’s 48 votes) and rather than retaining his portfolio after his defeat, resigned to the backbench. People who supported him offered to resign but Turnbull rejected their offers. Now, you would think it was over at that point. But you would be wrong. On Wednesday morning, Turnbull said that he had the support of the majority including key ministers like Mathias Cormann (who held a press conference to say exactly that). However, Dutton believed that he might be successful if he tried again, since he only lost by a small margin so he began gathering signatures and petitioning support. On Wednesday afternoon, more ministers offered to resign and Cormann informed Turnbull that actually he might not have the majority of support. Dutton challenged the leadership again on Thursday morning but Turnbull refused to call a party meeting. Then, together with two other key conservative party members, Cormann called a press conference on Thursday morning and publicly declared he no longer supported Turnbull as leader of the Liberal Party. Turnbull then demanded a list of names (normally the leadership votes are anonymous) which some say is a clever move politically as ministers are then forced to be accountable for their actions and where they pledge their support. Another minister called for an adjournment of government until September 10 until the Liberals sort out the structure and leadership of their party.
What happens now?
If the petition is made public and Turnbull does not in fact have the majority of support (Dutton needs 43 names), he has said he will bow out. What makes this even more remarkable is that the Liberals only just have the majority in House of Representatives so if Turnbull resigns, it would trigger a by-election in his seat of Wentworth (Sydney). If a non-Liberal Party member is elected, Liberal lose their majority and it would be very difficult for them to govern. So the stakes are high! We’ve had a hung parliament twice before at a federal level (but more frequently at a state level) and the independents and the Greens are critical in determining the way forward but generally speaking, no one really wants to see this happen. Malcom Turnbull awaits the petition to see if there are 43 or more names and then he will call a party meeting at midday (24/8).
Is Peter Dutton going to be the next PM of Australia?
No, not necessarily. Scott Morrison, the Treasurer, has also put his hand up as a potential leader of the party and very recently, Julie Bishop, the deputy PM, has done the same. What is so destabilising about this is that any one of these people could end up leader. Another option is that the Governor General dismisses parliament and an election is called immediately. Then the Labor Party could be voted in and Bill Shorten could be the next Prime Minister of Australia. So it’s anyone’s guess at this point.
Who do we want to win?
It depends on who you ask. While of course they have their critics, Scott Morrison and Julie Bishop both have support within the party and the public but Dutton is one of the most polarising politicians in Australia. Before becoming the Minister for Home Affairs earlier this year, he was Minister for Immigration and he is disliked by many Australians for his openly racist views and policies. Australia has been criticised by the UNHCR and other human rights groups for its offshore detention facilities and treatment of asylum seekers. This was Peter Dutton’s portfolio for four years. Over the last couple of years he has stated that there are no children in these detention centres and yet there is increasing evidence of children going on hunger strikes or setting themselves alight in desperate attempts to escape their living conditions. Other detainees have been denied life-saving healthcare. Earlier this year, Dutton was also criticised for suggesting fast-track visas for white South African farmers and New Zealanders, and while they may indeed be fleeing violence (South Africans more than New Zealanders), overall this certainly does seem to suggest a return to Australia’s infamous White Australia Policy of the 20th Century more than anything else. The only front bencher to have absented himself for the government’s apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008, Dutton has also been condemned for fear mongering, stating a number of times in the last two years that Melburnians are too scared to go out at night for fear of being attacked by Sudanese gangs, a claim which has been largely ridiculed by the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, community elders and the public. Many people fear that someone like Dutton will mobilise and legitimise an increasing undercurrent of racist politics in Australia. Just last week, Senator Fraser Anning called for a ‘Final Solution’ to Australia’s problem with overseas immigration, more specifically a ban on Muslim immigration.
Last but not least, there’s also the small matter that Dutton might actually be ineligible to sit in parliament due to alleged allocation of federal funds to an organisation from which he stands to benefit financially. Labor tried to pass a motion to refer this to the High Court earlier this week but it was defeated by one vote. The Solicitor-General still has the power to decide if this will be taken further or not.
That’s all we have time for on today’s episode of Who wants to be…the PM of Australia!
Dutton managed gather enough support and presented the necessary 43 names to Turnbull who called a party meeting at midday today 24 August 2018. But instead of voting Dutton in, the party elected Scott Morrison as the 30th Prime Minister of Australia (45 votes to Dutton’s 40). While most agree he’s not such a dire a choice as Peter Dutton, it’s widely acknowledged that the whole situation is a mess and an embarrassment. Like Dutton, Morrison has served as Minister for Immigration and Border Control in the past and is more conservative in his views than Malcolm Turnbull. He voted against last year’s marriage equality bill (which passed with 61.8%). In his first press conference, Morrison listed the severe drought as one of his top priorities along with energy prices and welfare, and more bizarrely, illegal street parking. He stressed unity, stability and a return to conservative values. Dutton has pledged support for Morrison and despite losing two leadership challenges in a week, does not seem likely to resign. The only people who seem to gain from this debacle are the independents, the Greens but especially the Labor party who are more likely to win the next election now.