This morning, 39 members of the Government’s Parliamentary team voted to spill the leadership – an effective vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister’s leadership of the Government. If, as suggested, the majority of the Cabinet team voted against the spill, then the Prime Minister has lost the support of an increasing number of his backbench, which may, as one journalist suggested this morning, spell a ‘death blow’ to his leadership.
This cloud will hang over the Prime Minister and the party as Parliament returns today and the Government moves on with its legislative agenda, with only five sitting weeks remaining before the next Federal Budget in May.
The Prime Minister faces a mammoth task to repair the party, his relationship with his Deputy, Julie Bishop, which has suffered during this leadership debate, and the Government’s fortunes. The Prime Minister gave an impassioned speech asked his party room for unity following the vote and subsequently stated to the public: “We think that when you elect a government, you elect a prime minister, you deserve to keen (them) until you change your mind.”
This is likely to inflame the backbench who will continue to push for change. In fact, the Prime Minister’s immediate challenge may be to survive the rest of the week as disgruntled back bench and a hungry media, who sense blood in the water, continue to whip up momentum. The New South Wales election in seven weeks’ time will be a defining moment for the Prime Minister if he can hang on.
What’s missing at the moment is a leadership contender. In the absence of a challenger, the backbench are voting against the Prime Minister rather than for any potential candidate (Julie Bishop, or Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull are names touted). The game will change should either go public with their leadership ambitions with Turnbull in particular a divisive figure who splits the party. This may slow down any push to move.
The Prime Minister is due to appear at a press conference before today’s Question Time.
Peta Lange, Associate Director Parker & Partners