Bruised Australian prime minister survives leadership challenge, for now

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull defeated Dutton 48-35 in the party-room vote for the leadership of the Liberal Party. (AFP)
Updated 21 August 2018

Bruised Australian prime minister survives leadership challenge, for now

  • Malcolm Turnbull defeated Dutton 48-35 in the party-room vote for the leadership of the Liberal Party
  • He must return to the polls by May 2019 and could break the impasse by calling an early election

SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull survived a leadership challenge by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton on Tuesday, government officials said, but the narrow margin of his win did little to dampen speculation about his future.
Turnbull defeated Dutton 48-35 in the party-room vote for the leadership of the Liberal Party, the senior party in the center-right government coalition, officials said. The vote came after a sharp fall in opinion poll ratings and talk of a challenge that have raised the possibility of an early election.
Seeking to safeguard his leadership, Turnbull called on his party to back him or risk losing the next election to the opposition Labor party.
“We know that instability undermines the ability of any government to get anything done. Unity is absolutely critical,” Turnbull told reporters in Canberra.
Labor wasted no time in moving a no-confidence motion against Turnbull in parliament, which would trigger an election if successful. The vote requires the support of 76 lawmakers, meaning that just one government MP would need to join Labor and independents to topple Turnbull.
“If the prime minister’s own party does not want him, and nearly half of his party voted against him remaining prime minister, why should the parliament put up with him?” Labor leader Bill Shorten told parliament.
Turnbull must return to the polls by May 2019 and could break the impasse by calling an early election. However, a state election in Victoria scheduled for late November is seen limiting him to dates before the end of October if he intended to hold a national poll this year.
“He’s always got that in his back pocket. If it looks like there’s another attempt to dislodge him, he could try to lock his leadership in by taking the coalition to an election,” said Nick Economou, senior lecturer in politics at Monash University in Melbourne.
A spokesman for Turnbull declined to comment on the prospect of an early election.
The political instability could be contributing to falling consumer confidence, an economist warned on Tuesday.
“The decline ... may reflect the impact of the messy political debate locally and the associated slump in support for the current Turnbull government,” said ANZ Head of Australian Economics David Plank.
Australia’s stock market also fell more than one percent on Tuesday, its biggest drop in five months.
Turnbull declared the leadership open earlier on Tuesday amid a backbench uprising as opinion polls showed the government on course for a heavy election defeat.
His position remains in jeopardy despite surviving Dutton’s challenge, stoking expectations of further political instability in a country that has seen six different leaders since 2009.
“We’ve seen it so often in Australian politics — this two-stage act play in removing a prime minister — and, given how close the vote was, there’s definitely more to come,” said Haydon Manning, a political science professor at Flinders University in South Australia state.
Turnbull came to power in a party-room coup in September 2015 when he ousted former premier Tony Abbott, who also survived an internal leadership contest before his eventual defeat.
Turnbull, a social liberal and multi-millionaire former merchant banker, rode an early wave of popular support but his standing has diminished significantly.
He has struggled to appeal to conservative voters, while progressive supporters have been disappointed as they watched government policies shift to the right as Turnbull tried to appease a powerful right-leaning backbench.
The uneasy unity held sufficiently to secure a narrow election victory in 2016.
However, that fragile peace was broken this week by the weakening of the government’s centerpiece energy policy, which had included the imposition of a target of a 26 percent reduction in greenhouse emissions from Australia’s energy generators, an issue that has repeatedly divided the government.
Dutton, a conservative who has the support of the powerful right wing of the Liberal Party, resigned from the Cabinet after losing the vote, Turnbull said.
Turnbull said he asked Dutton to stay in his ministerial post but Dutton declined. Treasurer Scott Morrison would act as interim home affairs minister, Turnbull said.
Dutton, a former policeman from Queensland state, can now canvass support from the backbench to mount a potential fresh challenge.
Dutton did not rule out another challenge as he thanked his colleagues for their support. “I have gone through what my job is now and that is to make sure that I can help the coalition win the next election,” he said.


France calls for international consensus on Libya peace process

Updated 18 January 2020

France calls for international consensus on Libya peace process

  • French President Emmanuel Macron due in Berlin on Sunday for the start of crisis summit
  • Priority is ceasefire and negotiations between government and Libyan army, says diplomatic source

French President Emmanuel Macron will arrive in Berlin on Sunday to take part in an international summit that aims to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Libya.

Ahead of the gathering, a French diplomatic source on Friday said the hope is that an international consensus can be reached to stabilize the situation, despite the differing goals of the participants. With a growing number of nations and groups actively involved in Libya, their goals need to be clarified, he added. France is participating in part to follow up on previous commitments it has made, he said, which need to be reconfirmed given the current volatile situation.

The source said that in light of the power struggle that has developed between the national unity government in Tripoli, led by Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj, and the Libyan National Army, commanded by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, which occupies about 80 per cent of the country, Macron will raise a number of issues, including: the necessity of ending the fighting between both sides in and around Tripoli, the only part of the country Haftar does not control; and the need for Al-Sarraj and Haftar to agree to negotiations within a framework agreed by the Berlin summit.

In addition to France, the participants in the peace conference include the US, Russia, China, the UK, Germany, Italy, the UAE, Turkey and a number of other African and Arab nations and organizations.

Despite the volatile backdrop against which it takes place, there are hopes that a peaceful solution is still possible if an internationally brokered agreement can be reached for a ceasefire and reconciliation process. Otherwise, it is feared Libya will become another battleground for warring regional and global powers.

The French diplomatic source said the conditions for a ceasefire were set by the UN Security Council in August last year, but that Russia, Turkey and Al-Sarraj have added additional conditions that are unacceptable to Haftar. The view from Paris, he added, is that any attempt to negotiate a ceasefire must be on realistic terms, and the priority is to prevent any escalation in fighting or expansion of the forces at war in the country. With this in mind, the announcement by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he is sending troops to Tripoli is very worrying, he added.

The source said that if the peace effort is to succeed, all international powers need to take responsibility for their role in reaching a consensus to ensure stability, regardless of which side they support in the conflict.

He also called on all nations to respect an existing UN embargo on the supply of arms to the warring factions in Libya. The country is at risk of falling prey to many disruptive influences, he added, and the fear is that should the efforts to kick start peace negotiations fail, the flood gates will open and arms and troops will pour in. The country is on the brink of a total collapse that can only be prevented by a ceasefire, followed by an agreed political process to negotiate peace, he said.