Peter Dutton says he challenged Malcolm Turnbull for the Liberal leadership because he thought the change would offer the best chance of defeating Bill Shorten at the next election.
The former home affairs minister lost against Turnbull by a vote of 48 to 35, after the prime minister declared a snap leadership spill on the morning of Aug. 21, a move that came as a surprise to many MPs. Dutton has since resigned from cabinet and moved to the backbench.
In a press conference after the spill, Dutton did not rule out launching another leadership challenge.
“The problem is that Bill Shorten would be a disastrous Prime Minister of this country and I believe I had the best prospect of leading the Liberal Party to success at the next election,” Dutton said.
“That was not to be today and I understand and I respect the outcome and I fully support the Prime Minister and the cabinet.
“My position from here will be to do what I can as a backbencher to make sure that I support the government, to make sure we are elected and can keep Bill Shorten from the Lodge.”
He said his move was not due to any animosity against Turnbull.
“I have never harboured any animosity towards Malcolm Turnbull, not before this ballot, and not now,” he said in a statement.
Dutton outlined a range of policies that the government needed to get right to secure the next election, including reducing electricity prices and controlling immigration.
“I believe strongly that we can win the election if we get the policies and the message right about lowering electricity prices, about making sure that we can do more on infrastructure and in particular around the migration program, until the infrastructure can catch up in our capital cities,” he said.
“We need to invest more in water to get farmers out of drought so they do not go through what they go through at the moment.
“We need to invest records amounts into health and education, aged care and other areas as well.”
Based on today’s outcome, Dutton needs just seven more votes to defeat Turnbull. Commentators have suggested he will contest again in the coming weeks or months, similar to previous challengers who were able to dethrone the prime minister after an initial failed attempt.
PM Calls For Unity
The Prime Minister called for party unity in the aftermath of the spill.
“We know that disunity undermines the ability of any government to get its job done, and unity is absolutely critical,” Turnbull told reporters in Canberra.
“We cannot allow, as I said in the party room today, internal issues to undermine our work, to create a risk, a real risk, that Bill Shorten will be the Prime Minister.”
He said he did not bear any grudge against Dutton and offered for him to continue in his position as home affairs minister.
“I don’t bear any grudge towards Peter Dutton for having stood up and challenged me today.
“It’s really important that we put this sort of these differences … behind us and get on with our job of looking after the 25 million Australians who have put us here. That is our job.”
Turnbull must call an election by May 2019.