Australian PM Unveils Historic Rule Change to Secure Stability of Liberal Party Leadership

December 4, 2018 Updated: December 4, 2018

Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has announced historic new rules to make it harder for the Liberal Party to oust a sitting party leader. Morrison said that if there was to be a potential leadership spill, two thirds of the party room would need to support the change of leadership.

Morrison describes the measure as the biggest change to the rules of the Liberal Party since its founding by Robert Menzies in 1944.

At a joint news conference with Liberal deputy Josh Frydenberg in Canberra on Dec. 3, Morrison said that the two-thirds requirement is a “very high bar special majority,” and would be rarely achieved.

The change effectively ensures a stable full-term in office for a future elected Liberal leader, following what many have called Australia’s “revolving door” of prime ministers in the past decade.

John Howard was the last prime minister to serve a full term in office until 2007.

In drafting the new rules, Morrison consulted former prime ministers Howard and Tony Abbott. He also informed Liberal Party deputy leader Julie Bishop of the changes. However, Morrison did not consult his predecessor, former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Morrison had taken the place of Turnbull in August, following a leadership spill—the latest in a series of spills in both Liberal and Labor parties.

In June 2010, Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as Labor prime minister in a leadership spill, before Rudd returned in June 2013 in another spill.

Tony Abbot of the Liberal Party was elected as prime minister in Sept. 2013, but lost a Liberal leadership spill in Sept. 2015 when he was replaced by Turnbull.

Josh Frydenberg, Australian Treasurer and Liberal deputy, said on Dec. 3: “The changes in Australian prime ministers over the last decade has diminished the parliament and its representatives in the eyes of the public.

“The Liberal Party has listened to the Australian people and the Liberal parliamentary party has responded tonight.”

The rules will not apply to Morrison because he did not win an election to become the Liberal Party leader.

“I will remain the prime minister and will continue to serve as prime minister, implementing our plans for the stronger economy that Australians rely on,” Morrison said, according to the ABC.

Morrison said: “we understand our entire party, the frustration and the disappointment that Australians have felt when governments and prime ministers that they have elected under their authority under their power has been taken from then with the actions of politicians here in Canberra.”

“We’ve seen it on both sides of politics and the Liberal Party has done it also, as you all know. We understand that frustration, we understand that disappointment, we acknowledge it, and we take responsibility for it.”

Morrison explains the new decision means that an elected Liberal Party leader who becomes prime minister “will remain prime minister for that full parliamentary term. They will not be able to be removed from that office.”

“The only safeguard that is put in place is the very high bar special majority that for that rule to be changed it would require a two thirds majority of the parliamentary party. In my experience around this place such a majority is rarely if ever achieved,” he said.

In 2013, the Australian Labor Party introduced rules that meant a 75 percent majority would be required to oust a Labor leader if it were in government, and 60 percent if it was in opposition. Since then, opposition leader Bill Shorten has remained leader of the Labor party.

Reuters contributed to this report

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