Liberals shut leadership door after coup “anguish”

Australian voters can finally be confident the nation’s revolving door of Liberal prime ministers is over, senior party members say.

Dec 04, 2018, updated Dec 04, 2018
Former prime minister Tony Abbott and current leader Scott Morrison during Question Time yesterday. Photo: AAP/Mick Tsikas

Former prime minister Tony Abbott and current leader Scott Morrison during Question Time yesterday. Photo: AAP/Mick Tsikas

Dumping the prime minister will now be far more difficult under a major shake-up of Liberal Party rules aimed at ensuring leaders serve a full term.

Two-thirds of the federal Liberal party room will now need to support a change, a near impossible threshold to reach.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said voters are sick of an insidious “coup culture” within the party that has seen consecutive prime ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott cut down.

“We can’t change the past but we can certainly change the future,” Senator Cormann told Nine Network this morning.

Turnbull welcomed the changes but said only time would tell if they would ensure stability.

“I think people will welcome the prospect of there being less of the revolving door prime ministership. So it’s a welcome reform,” he told reporters in Sydney.

“How effective it will be? Time will tell.”

He said there were also “cultural issues” in the party which needed addressing.

Abbott said he fully supported changing the rules.

Arriving at Parliament House today, Abbott was asked whether he wished the rules were in place when he was overthrown.

“That was then, this is now, a very sensible move from the prime minister and he’s got my full support,” he told reporters.

Former prime minister John Howard, who once described the Liberal leadership as a gift of the party room, said the changes were sensible given the events of the past five years.

Howard said the changes responded to the public seeking a “reassurance of continuity” and would be widely acclaimed within the Liberal Party.

“They respond to that concern, but they also preserve the authority of the parliamentary party completely when it comes to choosing the leader,” he told reporters in Canberra.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison accepted the recent and frequent turnover of prime ministers – on both the Liberal and Labor sides – had frustrated and disappointed Australians.

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“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,” he said.

Labor had already addressed the issue, implementing rules to safeguard sitting prime ministers after the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd leadership merry-go-round.

Labor leadership contenders now have to gain a majority of votes in the caucus and in a grassroots party ballot.

Nick Greiner, the federal president of the Liberal Party, said the new rules would stop arbitrary leadership changes.

He said that although the changes went against the party’s ethos, it was time to catch up to public expectations.

“I just think it’s common sense.”

Greiner, who describes himself as a Turnbull man, was also asked about the former prime minister’s public interventions in party politics.

Turnbull yesterday unsuccessfully tried to stop Liberal Party executives from sparing conservative Sydney MP Craig Kelly a preselection battle.

“I do think the intervention was obviously not helpful, that’s totally self-evident,” Greiner said.

He said the former prime minister had a responsibility to ensure the success of the party.

“I’d like to think that he will remember those responsibilities when he exercises his right to speak.”

Turnbull also called for the federal government to hold an early election in March to give the NSW Liberals clear air ahead of a state poll.

– with AAP

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