Scott Morrison beats Peter Dutton in Coalition leadership voting

What Is a Leadership Spill and Why Can’t Australia Stop Having Them?

In the last decade, Australians have had to deal with six leadership spills. We should be used to them by now, right? Every two years we should expect a change in prime minister. That’s been the norm since 2007 — or 2010 if you want to be technical.

But every time it happens, it comes as a surprise to most Aussies.

What is a leadership spill?

So what exactly is a leadership spill?

It’s a symptom of our parliamentary system where voters elect local reps rather than choosing their national leader. The party then chooses the PM amongst their MPs. So a spill basically means that the current prime minister will step down and leave his position vacant. Allowing MPs of the government to elect a new leader.

So why does it come about?

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Well, usually there is discontent within the party regarding the current leader.

In this case, Dutton felt that Turnbull had lost the confidence of the party and challenged the former prime minster to a leadership spill.

Let’s go back to Tuesday. In a surprising move, the day after Peter Dutton declared his support of the prime minister at the time, Malcolm Turnbull, Australians arrived at work with the news that Dutton was challenging Turnbull to a leadership ballot. Turnbull won 43–38, and most Aussies thought that was the end of it.

We soon found out it wasn’t. On Wednesday, Turnbull had the backing of both Treasurer Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Thursday was a different story. Both Morrison and Bishop chose to nominate themselves as the possible future prime minister and Liberal party leader.

Thursday also saw Turnbull tell Dutton that he needed 43 signatures to sign his petition for a Liberal party room meeting, and he would need these before 12pm Friday.

So what happened at roughly 11:20? Well, Dutton handed over his petition and Turnbull called a meeting.

This meeting saw Morrison become our new prime minister, and Dutton remain on the backbench, even though he basically did all the work.

How could we avoid a leadership spill?

So why can’t our governments stop having leadership spills?

One suggestion, as stated by Public Choice Theory, is that our pollies are ‘too responsive to what we think and there are too few of them’.

So how can we once again have a stable government?

The Conversation reported that ‘If we want stable government, we can tinker with party constitutions to disincentivise leadership spills: we can increase the size of parliament to make it harder to build factions for changing the leader.’

Increasing the size of parliament is an unpopular opinion, but the ballot box also doesn’t seem to be working. Yes, we vote for the party not the leader, but we also entrust the party with that decision, and for them to stick with their chosen and elected leader for the full term. Aussies are sick and tired of waking up to the news that we have a new leader.

Hopefully this will be the last leadership spill we see for some time. It is now time for the Liberal party to unite and look forward to prepare for the 2019 election.

Alana Sumic

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Alana Sumic

Alana Sumic

Alana Sumic is an editor and writer for The Australian Tribune. She has a Bachelor of Arts from La Trobe University and a Masters in Publishing and Editing from Monash University.

She specialises in national and international politics and current affairs. She’s passionate about delivering the unfiltered stories that matter to you, on all topics.

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