Australia PM Turnbull in crisis with second leadership challenge

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SYDNEY, Aug 23, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Australian Prime Minister Malcolm
Turnbull’s tenuous grip on power came under intense pressure Thursday with
the man who wants his job launching a second leadership challenge in a week
and senior ministers defecting.

Former home affairs minister Peter Dutton, an ex-police officer and right-
wing conservative, said he was confident he now had the numbers to unseat
Turnbull, considered a moderate.

“Earlier this morning I called the prime minister to advise him that it was
my judgement that the majority of the party room no longer supported his
leadership,” he said in a brief statement.

“As such, I asked him to convene a meeting of the Liberal Party at which I
would challenge for the leadership of the parliamentary Liberal Party.”

Turnbull survived a ballot on his leadership on Tuesday, winning the vote
48-35.

He is yet to publicly respond to the latest threat to his rule, although
broadcaster ABC reported that he turned down the demand for another party
meeting during the phone call.

But in a major blow, his influential Finance Minister Mathias Cormann,
along with the employment and education ministers, said they no longer
supported him.

They join at least 10 other ministers who have either resigned or offered
to.

“It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that we went to see the prime
minister to advise him that in our judgement he no longer enjoyed the support
of the majority of members in the Liberal Party party room,” said Cormann,
who used to be a trusted ally.

“It is in the best interests of the Liberal Party to help manage an orderly
transition to a new leader.”

To force the issue, Dutton and his supporters must produce a petition
signed by a majority of ministers, essentially saying they no longer had
faith in Turnbull’s leadership.

Local media widely reported that such a petition was being compiled, but it
was not clear how many names were on it.

– ‘Another day of chaos’ –

Dutton, described by supporters as a pragmatic legislator who gets things
done and by detractors as a racist who demonises refugees, quit his cabinet
position after his first failed leadership bid.

If he became prime minister, Dutton said he would focus on lowering
electricity prices, cutting immigration to ease population pressures and
boost water investment to help drought-stricken farmers.

The turmoil came to a head after months of poor opinion polls and a revolt
by fellow Liberal politicians on Monday against the prime minister’s plans to
embed carbon emissions targets in law at a time of soaring power prices.

With its heavy use of coal-fired power and relatively small population of
25 million, Australia is considered one of the world’s worst per capita
greenhouse gas polluters. Dutton and his supporters, including former prime
minister Tony Abbott who once described climate change as “absolute crap”,
argue that keeping power prices down was more important than meeting
Canberra’s commitment to slash carbon emissions by 26 percent by 2030.

The unrest is the latest chapter in a turbulent decade for Australian
politics, with no leader managing to serve out a full term since John Howard
lost the 2007 election.

And it has played into the hands of the Labor opposition, which has been
making the most of the turmoil.

“Another day and another one of chaos from this government — a government
that has effectively stopped governing because it’s too busy fighting
itself,” said deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek.

“While this government fights itself, it’s not focusing on the issues that
matter to Australian families. In contrast, Labor has been united and
disciplined for five years.”

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