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Recap: How We Got a New PM

August 26, 2018

So. On Friday you might have heard that Malcolm Turnbull is no longer the Prime Minister of Australia. 



Some said the new PM was going to be Peter Dutton. Others said Julie Bishop. But in the end, it was announced that our new PM is Scott Morrison


So what on earth happened with Australian politics this week? 



What is a leadership spill?


Before getting into the facts of what happened this week, it might be useful to know exactly what a leadership spill is. 


In Australia, obviously we have Prime Ministers, not Presidents, because Australia is still part of the Commonwealth (meaning our official head of state is Queen Elizabeth II). Rather than being head of state, the PM is head of government. 


The Commonwealth Government (national government, as opposed to state or local governments) of Australia is made up of two houses: the House of Representatives and the Senate. These "houses" are two different large rooms in Parliament House, and they have two distinct roles. 


All of this being said, how does a leadership spill work? How can Turnbull be the PM one day, and then suddenly not be the next? 



Note: the Liberal party and the Labor party have slightly different procedures for leadership spills, because that depends on their party rules and regulations. I'll be stepping through a rough guide to the Liberal leadership spill process. 


A leadership spill is actually fairly simple to understand. 


Basically, any member of the Liberal party can call for a leadership spill in the party room, a place where all Liberal party members in the House of Representatives and the Senate meet. They would be calling for a motion for the spill. This motion needs to be seconded, meaning that a second person has to support the original man/woman who asked for the spill. As candidates for the new position come forward, there's usually a debate for & against the motion, and then a secret ballot vote. 


The winner will need a majority of votes, which means 50% + 1 vote. (There are 85 Liberal MPs, meaning that 50% +1 would be 43.)


If there are multiple candidates for the position, there will be multiple rounds of voting. At the end of the first round, if none of the multiple candidates receive the majority number of votes, then the candidate with the smallest number of votes is eliminated. (Which is what happened to Julie Bishop.) The second round then takes place, and the candidate with the majority number of votes wins. 


A leadership spill for the PM is usually followed by another vote to decide the Deputy PM.  


So what exactly happened last week?



Things have been a little unstable in Australian politics, particularly within the Liberal Party. There's a huge divide at the moment between different factions (a group within a group) in the Liberals - broadly, there are more moderate (center-right) members, and there are also more extreme (far-right) members. They have different views on major government policies, like energy costs, and carbon emissions targets. Also, Tony Abbott's been stirring up trouble for a while now, constantly criticising Malcolm Turnbull and widening the gap within the Liberal party. 


We all remember when this happened, right?





The first leadership challenge between Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull. Turnbull won and continued as PM with 48 votes to 35. Dutton then resigned his position and went to the backbench, meaning that he gave up his position as a minister on the frontbench of the House of Reps. However, he indicated that there might be another challenge.





Then, there was another challenge, and this time, Malcolm Turnbull resigned when the motion for the leadership spill was passed 45 to 40. Julie Bishop, Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison all stepped up for the newly empty role. 


The first round: Bishop got 11 votes. Dutton got 38. Morrison got 36. No one got the majority number (43), so Bishop was eliminated from the first round. 


The second round: Dutton got 40 votes. Morrison got 45 votes, meaning that ScoMo is our new PM. 



So who are all these people?


Peter Dutton



Dutton is the Minister for Home Affairs, which is quite a powerful portfolio that includes overseeing the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), the Border Force and the Australian Federal Police (It was recently announced that, despite the leadership spill, Morrison is keeping Dutton in this position). Dutton is part of the more right-wing, more conservative faction of the Liberal party - further right than Turnbull or Bishop, and closer to someone like Tony Abbott. Dutton's been involved in a couple of embarrassing scandals - for example, when he said that Australia would take white South African farmer refugees, or when he accidentally joked about rising Pacific sea levels into a microphone that was on. 


What was all that controversy around Dutton wanting to be PM?


It's a little complicated to understand, but basically Dutton has a family trust arrangement through which he owns childcare centres that have gotten payments from the government, which, basically, could breach Australia's constitution. However, on Friday morning it was said that Dutton was "not incapable", but that "it is impossible to state the position with certainty." Overall, even his eligibility of being PM wasn't 100%.


Julie Bishop



Bishop was the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the deputy leader of the Liberal Party. She was the deputy leader under Tony Abbott as well, and arguably has loads of experience in leadership and foreign negotiation. However, after being knocked out in the first round, Bishop announced today that she would retire from the frontbench, and retire from politics in the next election. 


Scott Morrison



ScoMo, now Australia's 30th Prime Minister, was the Treasurer. (You may have seen him giving a speech on the Budget this year). Morrison is on the centre-right of the Liberal Party, although he is a little more socially conservative than someone like Turnbull. 


Josh Frydenberg



He's our new Deputy PM. Before, he was the Minister for the Environment and Energy. Fun fact about Josh: he's been to Monash, Oxford and Harvard. 



What's all this about a by-election?

A by-election is an election held for a particular office that has become vacant in between general elections. Because Malcolm Turnbull (MP for Wentworth) has now resigned, there's going to need to be a by-election held in Wentworth to fill his spot. There aren't exact rules about when or how that by-election should happen, but it's a pretty strong seat for the Liberals. Wentworth is located in eastern Sydney, and is the wealthiest seat in the country - there's a Liberal margin by 17%.  



And that was Recap: How We Got a New PM! The two key names to know now are Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg. It's also interesting to note that ScoMo is our 6th PM since 2007, which shows just how rocky Australian politics can be. Also, the last PM to serve his/her full term was John Howard.


Having said that, let's hope this new PM sticks around! 






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