4 Dec 2018

Australian Liberal Party's new rules make leadership spills harder

2:33 pm on 4 December 2018

Australia's ruling Liberal Party has announced new rules to make it harder to depose a sitting prime minister.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison on November 29, 2018.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison rolled Malcolm Turnbull for Liberal Party leadership in August. Photo: AFP

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the party is moving to address the "frustration and disappointment" felt by voters about recurring leadership coups in Canberra.

In an unplanned meeting that caught many Liberal MPs off guard, Mr Morrison's colleagues agreed to make it harder to replace a sitting Liberal prime minister.

From now on, two-thirds of the party room will need to support a leadership spill. The higher threshold has been described as the biggest change to Liberal Party processes in more than 70 years.

If the change had been introduced before the August spill, Mr Morrison would not have had enough support to replace Malcolm Turnbull, who would still be prime minister.

The change also acknowledges the significant protest vote registered at the Wentworth by-election and the Victorian election, which could be replicated at a federal poll next year.

"We understand that frustration, we understand that disappointment, we acknowledge it and we take responsibility for it," Mr Morrison said.

"They're sick of it and we're sick of it and it has to stop, that's why we've put this rule in place."

The prime minister said a two-thirds majority on leadership was "rarely, if ever achieved", meaning the change effectively ensures a future Liberal leader will serve a full-term in office.

"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," Mr Morrison said.

The rules were drafted in consultation with former prime minister John Howard and supported by Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop, who were both deposed in leadership spills.

"Frankly, there is no-one living today who has greater experience of the Liberal Party as a leader than John Howard, so I don't have any reservations about acknowledging his special status," Mr Morrison said.

'This is what voters want'

Mr Morrison said the change would ensure the party meets community expectations while drawing a line under the instability of recent months.

"Australians have the very reasonable expectation that when they elect a government, when they elect a prime minister, they should be the ones to determine if the prime minister is not to continue," Mr Morrison said.

The changes are similar to those introduced by Labor under former party leader Kevin Rudd.

The ALP requires a 75 per cent majority to topple a prime minister and a 60 per cent majority to remove an opposition leader.

Liberal senator Linda Reynolds said she called for a similar change the day after the August spill and her colleagues had been discussing options for months.

"I think it is something that all Australians want, that when you go to an election you vote for your local member and you have a leader of your party that you expect to be prime minister," Senator Reynolds said.

Her Upper House colleague, Amanda Stoker, welcomed the change but also pointed out one downside.

"I confess I have an instinctive hesitation because I like the idea that a leader has an incentive to be responsive to the partyroom and someone who can't confidently command half a partyroom should have cause to re-evaluate their approach," Senator Stoker told Sky News.

Senior Labor figures were yet to respond to the change, but Tasmanian senator Lisa Singh said it was unlikely to end what she described as chaos inside the Morrison Government.

"No kind of emergency meeting is going to resolve this chaos," Senator Singh said.

"The only thing that is going to resolve this is going to the people and calling an election, to be honest. I think that's what the people want."


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