For a long time in Australia, the choice of our Prime Minister has been too important to leave to voters. The first time it came was with no warning. Back in 2010, Kevin Rudd — barely a few weeks after “disastrous” polling — was offed overnight, with very little obvious build up. Since then, every Prime Minister has had to endure at least one vote before they have been ousted.
Former Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton resigned his position on Tuesday after unsuccessfully contesting the Liberal party leadership. He conjured 35 votes without any lobbying and Dutton’s tone in his post-spill presser (and his media tour this morning) heavily suggests another challenge is to come:
I made a decision not because I had any animosity towards Malcolm Turnbull. I made a decision to contest this ballot because I want to make sure we can keep Bill Shorten from ever being prime minister of this country … I will make sure that I can do all I can to make certain that the Coalition wins the next election.
How long will it take between Tuesday’s first challenge and Turnbull’s presumed demise? Let history inform you.
Gillard’s time as prime minister never knew a moment’s peace, thanks to the assiduous work of the man she deposed. On February 22, 2012, Rudd quit the foreign ministry and after a lot of public palaver about who was or wasn’t a giant psychopath, Gillard called a leadership spill on February 27 and won comfortably (71 to 31).
The sniping continued for the next year, culminating in an absurd and shameful second spill — timed to deflate the tires of Gillard’s apology to victims of forced adoption — on March 21, 2013, wherein Gillard and Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan ran unopposed, Rudd having decided 10 minutes before the match that he didn’t want to play. Gillard sacked ringleader Simon Crean and declared the leadership squabbles settled. But then, they always do.
On June 26 of that year, with Labor’s polling increasingly poor, sections of the party were sufficiently frantic to collect signatures backing Rudd to save the furniture. Gillard called another spill, this time with higher stakes — the loser would retire from politics. This time, things didn’t go her way. She lost 57 to 45.
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Time from first challenge to ousting: 1 year, 3 weeks, 1 day.
Time from second challenge to ousting: 13 weeks, 6 days.
Following an immensely unpopular budget in 2014, a stalled legislative agenda and the odd decision to knight someone who was already a prince, Abbott’s support began to wobble. On February 9, 2015, Abbott took a chance against an empty chair, and just about won. “If he stuffs up again, or things don’t get better, then that will be it,” said an anonymous MP at the time.
Things did not get better. After the disastrous optics of “choppergate”, Malcolm Turnbull (then communications minister) resigned and challenged on September 14. He won 54 to 44.
Time from first challenge to ousting: 7 months, 5 days.
Turnbull announced yesterday morning that “Australians expect us to be focused on them … They don’t like us being focused on ourselves or talking about each other. That is why it is very important that today the Liberal Party room has confirmed our leadership of the party.”
But even without Dutton’s promise that we’d like him if we knew him better — “it is good to be in front of the cameras where I can smile and maybe show a different side to what I show when I talk about border protection,” he told the presser — and his refusal to rule out another challenge, even without the talk of another spill as early as Thursday, it’s likely this is merely the beginning.