By Vish Viswanathan
“It’s a joke?” On the night of September 14, Australians around the world asked themselves this question with a mixture of bemusement and irritation. Malcolm Turnbull challenged the Liberal party leadership of existing Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and had won 54 votes to 44. Mr Turnbull is now the nation’s 29th Prime Minister. Julie Bishop beat Kevin Andrews 70-30 in the ballot for the Deputy Liberal leadership.
It has been unprecedented drama once again in the history of the Australian politics, and a repetition of the ousting of Kevin Rudd by Julia Gillard in a move that Australians were promised would never happen when the Liberals were elected to power. But well, history is repeating itself again, and Ms Gillard must be excused for laughing herself silly!
For Tony Abbott, the writing was on the wall since the last couple of months with several media reports of internal rifts on policy issues, suspected cabinet leaks, and indecisiveness on some sensitive issues like gay marriages. All these issues led to sagging public opinion on the leadership of the country, which escalated during the Brownwyn Bishop saga in which Mr Abbott’s indecisiveness came strongly into the public focus. Mr Abbott was also criticised for overly defending Joe Hockey in spite of his shortcomings as Treasurer. In fact, it would appear that Joe Hockey’s disastrous first budget after the last election triggered the downfall of Mr Abbott.
This is the second time in which Malcolm Turnbull has challenging the leadership of Tony Abbott; in 2009, he lost the leadership battle by just one vote because of his stand on the emission trading scheme. In a strategic political move, Mr Turnbull resigning his post as Communications Minister, claiming that Mr Abbott was allowed to
continue as Prime Minister, Bill Shorten would end up becoming the next PM. He also justified his argument against the leadership referring to a continued drop in opinion polls over several months. Mr Turnbull appealed to the nation vehemently saying, “We need a different style of leadership that respects the people’s intelligence and explains challenges and opportunities.” Mr Turnbull said he would lead a “truly consultative government” committed to freedom, the individual and the market.
Opinion polls conducted after the leadership battle indicated more support for the Coalition and Mr Turnbill as Prime Minister, and the latest win in Canning Western Australia seems to indicate a further boost to the party’s chances of winning the next Federal elections.
After taking over as Prime Minister and announcing his new cabinet on September 20, Prime Minister Turnbull stated that, “We are the Government for the future” and reiterating its commitment towards relevant policies for climate change, infrastructure and education. Several fresh faces now grace the new cabinet, including those of five women.
With his successful background as a journalist, lawyer, investment banker and venture capitalist, PM Turnbull may find swift acceptance from Australian businesses in relation to building and improving the Australian economy. Some people also hope that he may revive the Australian Republican campaign that he has been spearheading since 1993. However, the Government’s priority should remain issues of progress and regaining the confidence of the Australian people.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has congratulated Mr Turnbull on taking on the role as Prime Minister of Australia. The Times of India said, “The change in leadership continues an extraordinarily volatile period in Australian politics.” Other than this, there has been nothing or a subdued reaction to this change from Indian media.
Although the personal chemistry between Tony Abbott and Narendra Modi will be missing, Australia India relations are unlikely to be affected by this leadership change. On a positive note, new PM Turnbull has re-inducted key players in the Indo-Oz relationship front
such as Trade Minister Andrew Robb, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, and Christopher Pyne, in the new role of Innovation, Science & Technology.
Well, as the old cliché says, ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating’. For Malcolm Turnbull, the test has begun and his government needs to prove its rhetoric. Undoubtedly, Australians would prefer stability, progress and improvement over these political shenanigans.