Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has narrowly survived a leadership challenge, facing down a conservative uprising in his party’s ranks over climate change policy.
Dutton announced early Thursday he would challenge Turnbull for the second time in a week, following the resignation of more than a dozen ministers across the government.
But the Australian leader fought back against the conservative uprising at a hastily called news conference in Canberra Thursday, accusing a minority of destabilizing the government in an attempt to seize power.
“Australians will be rightly appalled by what they’re witnessing in their nation’s parliament today and in the course of this week,” Turnbull said, describing the campaign against him as “a form of madness.”
Staring down the challengers, Turnbull said he would only hold a leadership vote if he was given a petition with signatures from the majority of his party room. If it arrives, the meeting would be held at midday Friday.
While the tide appears to be turning against the prime minister, Turnbull has also suggested that his main challenger Dutton might not even be eligible to sit in parliament, following local media reports that he may have violated constitutional restrictions over his family business investments.
The party’s right-wing have always viewed Turnbull with suspicion and hostility, given his moderate positions on a number of policies. Assisted by conservative media personalities, the vocal faction has been pushing for cuts to immigration and greater investment in coal power.
Australian dollar plunges
With leadership of the Liberal Party in doubt, the government controversially shut down debate in the parliament five hours early Thursday, leading to accusations by the opposition Labor Party that it had lost control.
The Australian dollar plunged on the news of the leadership crisis, falling to 72.9 US cents by midday.
Turnbull faced down an initial challenge on Monday amid a conservative uprising in the Liberal Party’s ranks over climate change policy.
But a second challenge could come by the end of the year, given the narrow result and policy tensions within the ruling Liberal Party.
Turnbull has long advocated for action on climate change, and supports progressive social issues and an Australian Republic. But his policy positions have been viewed with suspicion and hostility by his party’s vocal conservative faction, who want greater investment in coal and cuts to immigration.
The chaos deepened later Thursday morning amid local media reports that Treasurer Scott Morrison could throw his hat into the ring for leader, in place of Turnbull.
If Dutton or a third contender takes power, they will be Australia’s sixth prime minister in just over a decade, amid a revolving door of leadership changes in the country’s major parties.
Since 2007, no Australian prime minister has faced two consecutive elections.
The conservative rebellion in the ruling Liberal Party was sparked by Turnbull’s climate change policy, which would have legislated to include carbon emissions cuts under the Paris Agreement.
In a chaotic week, the Australian leader dropped his policy, as well as all carbon emission targets, in a failed attempt to quash leadership rumblings.
Turnbull has long been an anomaly in the Liberal Party, with many ideological positions to the left of his more conservative colleagues.
For instance, the prime minister has advocated for action on climate change, and supports progressive social issues as well as an Australian Republic.
Soon after the vote Dutton resigned from the cabinet, stepping down from his dual roles as home affairs and immigration minister, which includes oversight of Australia’s strict border protection policy.
The Australian leader dropped all carbon emission targets from his National Energy Guarantee (NEG) Monday to quash leadership rumblings, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy dissent.
He was one of a small number of politicians who boycotted then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology in 2008 to the Stolen Generations, a name given to the tens of thousands of Aboriginal children forcibly removed from their parents and families by the government between 1910 and 1970.
Questions over eligibility
By setting a potential vote over the Liberal Party leadership for Friday, Turnbull said it would also give Australia’s solicitor-general a chance to issue guidance on whether or not Dutton was eligible to even be in parliament, let alone prime minister.
Earlier this week, local media reported that the former home affairs minister’s family childcare business received childcare rebates and benefits from the federal government. It is possible the benefits could be unconstitutional, leaving him ineligible.
“You can imagine the consequences of having a prime minister whose actions and decisions are questionable because of the issue of eligibility,” Turnbull said Thursday.
Dutton maintains he has legal advice which shows he has no problems over eligibility despite the allegations.
But Australian constitutional law expert George Williams said on social media it was likely the former home affairs minister did have a case to answer.
“There is a real prospect that a person seeking to be our PM has breached section 44 of the Constitution and is disqualified from Parliament,” he said.