22nd September, 2015
Quite a lot of my Indian friends from overseas have asked me how did it happen that Liberal Party changed its leader. They were perplexed about the mechanism. Things like this do not happen in many democracies.
That’s all true, but there is basically a very simple explanation. Change like this can happen in any democracy which follows Westminster system.
People elect MPs and MPs elect their leader. For obvious reasons, MPs can remove their leader and choose another leader too, if their leader is not performing and is not able to lead effectively and efficiently.
The Coalition, comprising of Liberal Party and National Party, led by Mr Tony Abbott won the election in 2013. Elected MPs then formally elected Mr Abbott as their leader, who was then sworn in as the Prime Minister of Australia on 18th September, 2013.
The Abbott Government did an excellent job as far as the uncontrolled arrival of asylum seekers was concerned. They stopped the Boats, arriving at Australian shores. They were also good at tackling terror threats. They were not as successful in the economic management and Budgets. This problem was compounded due to their failure in political communication, which led to significant dissatisfaction. Opinion polls were consistent in their results about their unpopularity. The Coalition lagged behind the Opposition for most of the time since September 2013 election.
Lack of majority in the Senate did not help as The Abbott Government’s proposals were defeated there. The main Opposition Party along with Greens and Independent Senators obstructed Government’s legislative agenda.
This could have been tackled to some extent if The Abbott Government’s political messaging and communication were better and things were explained to people in a better manner.
With repeated negative opinion polls, it was clear that The Coalition MPs will lose their seats in 2016 Federal election and Labor Party would form the Government. The most recent Opinion Poll, just 2 weeks before the Leadership Spill on 14th September, showed a swing of voting intentions against the government. This would have led to the loss 36 seats for The Coalition and an electoral defeat, if an election were held at the time of this Opinion poll.
There were repeated political missteps, so-called unpopular “Captain’s Calls” including Knighthood to Prince Philip, “Foot in Mouth” comments, lack of efficient interactions with back bench of The Coalition and micro-management of the Government by Prime Minister’s Office, which all added to the political woes for Mr Abbott’s leadership.
Many MPs and ministers did not get on well with the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin. This was a matter of concern for many. Things could have been managed, but they were not, unfortunately.
MPs and ministers were unsatisfied with Treasurer, Joe Hockey’s performance too.
Desperation and frustration among MPs was at all time high. Circumstances forced them to think long and hard and make a very hard decision.
These very adverse political scenario had already culminated in an earlier Leadership spill in February which Mr Abbott won. Mind you, there was no challenger to Mr Abbott then. Mr Abbott promised to change the quality and direction of his leadership, which would improve the prospects of the Government in 6 months time from the February leadership spill. MPs expected that this “Near death Experience” by Mr Abbott will be a catalyst for significant changes.
Seven months down the track, unfortunately, neither the Opinion polls improved nor the quality and direction of his leadership. MPs and ministers came to a realisation that the only thing which will fix their political woes is to change the leader.
This wasn’t an easy decision, but there was no other option.
I am sure that anti-Abbott MPs worked tirelessly and clandestinely over weeks to solidify the numbers for the challenger, Mr Malcolm Turnbull.
Once this was certain, and Opinion polls started telling that there would be 10% slide in The Coalition’s votes in an upcoming by-election in Western Australia, The Turnbull camp acted speedily and resolutely. Deputy leader, Julie Bishop informed Mr Abbott at about 2 PM on 14th September that he did not have the majority support among ministers and MPs. A few hours later, Mr Malcolm Turnbull tendered his resignation as the Communication Minister in The Abbott Government and asked Mr Abbott for the leadership spill.
It led to the leadership spill (Ballot) at about 9.30 PM same evening, and Mr Turnbull defeated Mr Abbott 54 to 44 votes in his favour. Camps led by key ministers, Julie Bishop, Christopher Pyne and Scott Morrison played significant roles in this outcome.
Mr Turnbull was sworn in as the 29th Prime Minister of Australia on 15th September. Julie Bishop continues as the Deputy leader of Liberal Party and the Foreign Affairs Minister. Mr Scott Morrison is the new treasurer. Outgoing treasurer, Joe Hockey decided to not take a ministerial position and is set to retire from Politics soon.
With the leadership change, Opinion polls have given an immediate 5% boost in the Primary vote, which is 44% for the Coalition Vs 35%, a loss of 4%, for the Opposition. The Coalition is ahead of the Opposition after a long time. The Coalition leads Labor 51-49% on a two-party basis now vs 46-54% against The Coalition only 2 weeks ago.
Will these number improve further is something only time will tell, but this is very likely because Mr Turnbull and new Treasurer, Mr Scott Morrison, are much better communicators and have been very successful in their roles in The Abbott Government.
With this leadership change in The Coalition, one more thing is certain to change. The Opposition leader, Bill Shorten, and Australian Labor Party (ALP) will have to perform in a much better manner, if they want to compete and beat The Turnbull Government in 2016 election. The almost certain victory for ALP is anything but certain now. The Game is now really on.
As far as people in my circle of friends and commentators and I are concerned, everyone wants a Government, which can lead the nation, manage the economy, formulate and execute appropriate policies, and communicate with the voters effectively and efficiently. They also want The Opposition to compete effectively and efficiently, relying on good policies and proposals, not scare tactics and negativity. People don’t want to be taken up for mugs.
This is vital because only this will allow Australians to understand policies from The Government and The Opposition, enabling them to make an informed decision about who to vote for in 2016.
Dr Yadu Singh/Sydney/ Australia
*This article was first published in http://www.MyInd.net, a USA-based News & Opinion website