OPINION

Australia’s Erratic Leadership Changes

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By: Qazi Naveed Ajaz 

Australian politics has seen a turbulent decade. Three Prime Ministers have led the country since 2007, but no one has served a full term. Before 2007, John Howard assumed the PM office for 11 years. Since then, Australian democracy has been in shambles.

What does it notify? Incredibility of democracy or leadership failures? As per Associated Press, ‘revolving Prime Ministers’ are hated by the Australians.

In fact, Australia is now called as the ‘coup capital of the Pacific’. Aussies complain that their leaders insist upon ‘Game of Thrones’ like political institutions than actual governance. First, Kevin Rudd was replaced by his deputy, Julia Gillard, back then, in 2010. When she lost a general election, after losing popularity in the public, Tony Abbot replaced her, in 2013. But Abbot lasted only until 2015 before Malcolm Turnbull succeeded him. When Turnbull assumed charge, he was accused of leading a ‘party room coup.’

In August 2018, The Economist reported that there was another coup, in which the rightist, conservative bloc of Mr Abbot, were instrumental in toppling Mr Turnbull. Other sources say, that ex-police officer and right winger, Peter Dutton, was instrumental in unseating him.

Now as Turnbull has left the Prime Ministerial office, it has now paved the way for Scott Morrison, nicknamed ’ScoMo’, the former public treasurer, to lead the federal government. As a treasurer, he preferred raising taxes and cutting spending. As an observant Pentecostal Christian, he also oversaw many tourism campaigns.

With the result, Turnbull’s loss has triggered a byelection of his Sydney seat.

Australia keeps on losing its Prime Ministers, mainly because of a ‘leadership spill’. These spills are dangerous because they require only 50% of approval from the total votes.

The political parties, representing Australian politics, often approve of these leadership changes, because they believe it will benefit them in the next elections, and even in the opinion polls. But, the frequent leadership changes mean that leadership at the federal level has become weak and inconsistent.

‘Labour spills’, what they were actually called, had started between Rudd and Gillard. After that, spills also happened between the conservatives Mr Turnbull and Mr Abbott, as early as 2009. Australia, until now, has not seen a prime minister, who can break through this internal problem.

Opinion polls, that reflect the public mood, reflect an opinion against these spills. According to current opinion polls, the left-leaning opposition, Labour National Front was leading, from 51 to 49 per cent to a 56-44 lead for Labour.  The ruling coalition’s primary vote fell to 35, while Labour went up to 39.

Turnbull, a wealthy former investment banker and lawyer, has been mocked by his own party cadre, as ‘Mr Harbourside Mansion’, because he owned his home in the most expensive suburb of the country. He had won support, because of his support for same-sex marriage, and action on climate change, and Paris emission targets. In the last election, he became the largest donor for the election, with a contribution of $1.75 million.

Energy wars had escalated in his tenure after he introduced a bill, intended to reduce electricity prices, that was criticised by the opposition, as there were also some limits in the greenhouse emissions, which were in line with the Paris climate change agreement. It, in fact, led to his eventual demise when his own party members opposed him.

Scott Morrison, his successor, in his past, implemented “stop the boats” asylum seeker policy. He oversaw policies that withheld refugees in offshore detention camps. This tactic has been condemned by the United Nations and the human rights groups.

Morrison will likely stay in office, until the next election, that will happen in May 2019. It means that he will be Australia’s sixth prime minister, the fourth ousted by his party in 11 years. He won after enough signatures were collected from the rebel party members, that called for a ‘spill’ – or ‘leadership contest’. It included four people – Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison, Julie Bishop and Peter Dutton. While Bishop was eliminated in the first round, Morrison beat Dutton with a lead of 45-40 votes. This reflects a deep fracture within the party cadre. In fact, Turnbull called this leadership contest as an ‘internal insurgency.’

On his twitter, a ruling Nationals MP Darren Chester went on to apologise to the Australian public and commented that the public deserved a much better rule by the federal government in these ten years.

Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne, a Turnbull ally, commented: “I think some people should have considered the greater good of the people of Australia, and the government, rather than their own self-interest and ambition.”

It is believed that Morrison will restructure the cabinet. More than ten frontbenchers have resigned, since Turnbull lost the leadership contest, signifying a sort of a fragmented scenario.

According to an article written in the Guardian, the first task for Morrison will be to promote rapprochement, between the rival wings of his party. He will also foresee the drought situation that has struck the region of New South Wales.

‘A relationship has grown increasingly toxic as Turnbull gave ground to conservative insurgents – especially over climate change and energy policy – only to be rewarded with more and more demands,’ the report claimed.

The writer is the author of The Trader of War Stories (2018) and Musings on Global Politics (2018). For feedback, write to [email protected]

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