Aussie Leader to Rivals: Show Me 43 Names, and I'll Go

Malcolm Turnbull issues defiant challenge as he fights to keep his job during party revolt
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 23, 2018 11:00 AM CDT
Aussie Leader to Rivals: Show Me 43 Names, and I'll Go
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull address reporters at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on Tuesday.   (AP Photo/Rod McGuirk)

Australia's government is in turmoil as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull fights for his political life because of a challenge from within his own ruling party. The battle has resulted in a tense showdown: Turnbull says he's willing to step down if the majority of Liberal Party lawmakers—the magic number is 43—want him to go, but there's one big catch. He wants those 43 names to be made public before he'll allow a party vote on Friday, and so far, his rivals haven't been able to produce the names. As the AP explains, lawmakers who might otherwise vote against Turnbull in the party's secret ballot might be unwilling to sign a public petition for fear of retribution from voters. The background:

  • Why the revolt: Some dizzying semantics: Despite the name, the Liberal Party is actually conservative, though Turnbull himself is seen by his critics as too liberal on social issues, explains the Wall Street Journal. For example, main rival Peter Dutton wants to take a much harder line than Turnbull on immigration issues. In general, more Australian voters are starting to favor right-wing and populist movements, notes the Journal.

  • The catalyst: Turnbull got into political hot water within his party when he went ahead with plans to put emissions-reductions targets under the Paris climate accord into effect. Amid a rebellion, Turnbull ditched those plans this week in what was seen as a bid to save his job, reports Deutsche Welle. It worked: Turnbull narrowly defeated Dutton in a leadership challenge on Tuesday. But now a second leadership challenge is in the works.
  • Won't run: If the 43 lawmakers emerge publicly, Turnbull says he won't run in the ensuing election to choose a new prime minister, reports the BBC. He would thus become the fourth prime minister ousted before a full three-year term since 2010, and the AP says this "extraordinary era of political instability" is generally hated by Australians. The nation's prime ministers are not directly elected by voters but instead through a party vote.
  • One view: "Turnbull is all but done," writes Christopher Knaus at the Guardian, who digs into the particulars of Australian politics and notes that Turnbull just lost the support of three key ministers. One wrinkle: Turnbull has threatened not just to step down but to resign from politics entirely, and the loss of his seat could cost the Liberal Party its ruling majority. That could make some in the party wary of ousting him.
  • A counterattack: Turnbull is questioning whether Dutton is eligible to serve in Parliament at all because he benefits from a family trust that's partially enriched through government contracts. It's complicated, but Australia's ABC has the details. An ABC columnist thinks it's a savvy move by Turnbull to buy some time, assuming an anti-Dutton ruling comes soon.
Americans might remember Turnbull from a famous phone call with Trump. (More Australia stories.)

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