Malcolm Turnbull has defeated Tony Abbott by 54 votes to 44 in a spill for the Liberal Party leadership and will become Australia’s 29th prime minister. Turnbull, a former opposition leader and the government’s communications minister, announced on Monday afternoon that he would challenge Abbott in a partyroom ballot.Julie Bishop, who earlier switched her support to Turnbull, remains deputy leader after being re-elected with 70 votes to Kevin Andrews' 30.
The Conversation’s experts react to the night’s events below.
The results of the leadership spill
Zareh Ghazarian, Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, Monash University
Malcolm Turnbull has been like the sword of Damocles hanging over Tony Abbott’s head ever since he was defeated by Abbott in the leadership ballot in 2009 by just one vote. Tonight the two Liberal Party heavyweights faced off again and Turnbull exacted revenge.
Following a vote of the Liberal partyroom, Abbott received 44 votes to Turnbull’s 54. Julie Bishop retained the deputy leadership with a comfortable 70 votes to challenger Kevin Andrews’ 30.
At the organisational level, the Liberal Party leader is crucial in setting the policy agenda. By turning to Turnbull, the party has moved away from the staunch social conservatism of Abbott and embraced a more socially progressive leader who has openly advocated for same-sex marriage, lobbied for Australia to become a republic and has been sympathetic to an emissions trading scheme.
With the change in party leadership, others are expected to follow Abbott. A big question mark remains over the future of embattled Treasurer Joe Hockey. More certain changes will occur in the Prime Minister’s Office, where chief of staff Peta Credlin is expected to be replaced by a successor of Turnbull’s choosing. Cabinet will also look different once Abbott supporters make way for Turnbull’s handpicked team.
A challenge for the Coalition government now will be to regroup and present a sense of solidarity. Coalition MPs will have to leave aside their divisions and somehow work as a team – something they have demonstrated only in glimpses since coming to government in 2013.
In leadership battles there is a sense of finality, a sense that a party has gone through immense pain to resolve a troubling question. But recent history in Australian politics suggests that while the Liberal Party (and the nation) has a new leader, the knives remain sharp and ready for use in future.