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Why Australia has had 6 prime ministers in the last 8 years

Saturday August 25, 2018
Eric Stober

On Friday, Australia got a new prime minister — again. Scott Morrison is the country’s sixth prime minister in the last eight years, and the fourth prime minister to be ousted in the last decade.

The trend of consistent coups began in June 2010, when then-prime minister Kevin Rudd’s deputy, Julia Gillard, called a challenge and gained enough support from Labor Party MPs to take his job.

With such high turnover, the Australian population has received a considerable amount of whiplash in terms of who the head of their government is.

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One reason Australia seemingly has a revolving door for prime ministers is because of the nature of its parliamentary system.

“In Australia it is the old British system, where if your caucus members want to undo you, they can and they can appoint whoever they want,” said Nelson Wiseman, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto.

As opposed to Canada’s parliamentary system, in which the party’s members elect the party’s leader, in Australia it is the caucus that determines the leader. The process to replace the leader is as simple as having a petition signed by the majority of the party’s lawmakers, which triggers a leadership ballot.

This is exactly what happened on Tuesday when then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull declared his position open to nominations. In the end, Morrison won an internal ballot 45-40 over former home affairs minister Peter Dutton.

This process has allowed a series of political coups over the past decade, with three other sitting prime ministers undone by party rivals. Not a single prime minister has succeeded in serving a full term since John Howard, who lost the 2007 election to Rudd.

The ease to oust a party leader has led to leader turnaround due to negative opinion polls, where fear of losing power in an upcoming election can lead to the leader being replaced in an attempt to swing the upcoming election, which occurs every three years.

One other factor for the turnover is significant differences in opinion on major policy, specifically energy and emissions targets. An ultraconservative faction of the Liberal Party, which includes former prime minister Tony Abbott, help lead-on the coups.

The Australian public has grown frustrated by the changing prime ministers, and of voting in elections only to see their choice of leader overturned, usually due to public popularity and the party’s chance of re-election.

“It’s got so cynical now that the politicians are coming out blatantly and saying they need to change leader in order to win the next election,” Darren Moore, a Sydney workplace environment manager, told The Associated Press. “Is that the sole focus?

“How about running and organizing the country?”

The frustration even turned violent, with windows found broken at Dutton’s Brisbane office.

The Australian press didn’t hide its disdain for the change in leadership, with one paper described the events as “nothing short of disgraceful.” Darwin’s Northern Territory News ran on its front page, “HANG YOUR HEADS IN SHAME.”

Despite his country’s track record, Morrison has promised stability for Australia’s political future.

— With files from The Associated Press

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