SYDNEY, Aug 23, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Defiant Australian Prime Minister Malcolm
Turnbull vowed not to “give in to bullies” Thursday in the face of a new
leadership challenge, but said he will quit politics if his party no longer
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.
And with senior ministers defecting, Turnbull’s near three-year grip on
power is tenuous despite surviving a snap ballot on his leadership on
Tuesday, winning the vote 48-35.
He said Dutton had yet to prove he has majority backing from the Liberal
Party — a requirement for him to force another meeting to have a second
crack at the top job ahead of national elections due by the middle of next
If the petition arrives showing this, the meeting will be held at midday on
Friday and Turnbull will not stand as a candidate and leave parliament.
Turnbull accused Dutton and his supporters of intimidation with the crisis
snowballing quickly since it began unfolding on Monday after months of poor
opinion polls and a revolt by fellow Liberal politicians over plans to embed
carbon emissions targets in law.
“What began as a minority has by a process of intimidation persuaded people
that the only way to stop the insurgency is to give in to it,” he said.
“I do not believe in that. I have never done that. I have never given in to
bullies, but you can imagine the pressure it’s put people under.”
He added that what Australia was witnessing was “a very deliberate effort
to pull the Liberal Party further to the right”.
Dutton earlier told reporters he had advised Turnbull by phone that “it was
my judgement that the majority of the party room no longer supported his
“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,” he
In a major blow, Turnbull’s influential Finance Minister Mathias Cormann,
along with the employment and education ministers, then said he no longer had
They joined at least 10 other ministers who have either resigned or offered
“It is in the best interests of the Liberal Party to help manage an orderly
transition to a new leader,” said Cormann, who used to be a trusted ally.
– ‘Absolute crap’ –
In a twist to the plot, ABC and Sky News reported that Treasurer Scott
Morrison, Turnbull’s right-hand man, may also stand if there was a ballot in
a bid to derail Dutton’s power grab.
Complicating matters, it has emerged that Dutton has financial interests in
childcare centres that get government subsidies — possibly breaching
constitutional rules — and Turnbull suggested he may not be eligible to sit
in parliament, let alone be prime minister.
“This issue of eligibility is critically important,” he said, with the
solicitor-general looking into it.
Dutton, described by supporters as a pragmatic legislator who gets things
done and by detractors as a racist who demonises refugees, has said he has
legal advice that he is in the clear.
He quit his cabinet position after his first failed leadership bid on
Tuesday and has said that if he became prime minister, he would focus on
cutting immigration to ease population pressures and boosting water
investment to help drought-stricken farmers.
Dutton and his camp, including former prime minister Tony Abbott who once
described climate change as “absolute crap”, have also made clear 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 it.
“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.