Australia has a new prime minister – the fifth in five years, and his name is Malcolm Turnbull. His predecessor, Tony Abbott had “led” Australia’s Liberal Party to thirty consecutive losses in the polls since his election in 2013. Turnbull has previously put himself forward as leader, losing to Abbott by one vote. This time the party’s lack of popularity prompted a change, and Abbott lost a leadership vote in caucus on Monday night 54-44. Turnbull took over on Tuesday morning.
The name of the Liberal Party in Australia refers to its economic policy of favouring free-markets. Socially it is the more conservative of the two main political parties in Australia. (The other main party is the Labour Party.) However, while Abbott was a social conservative whose actions included blocking attempts to legalize same-sex marriage in Australia, Turnbull is a social liberal. He is personally in favour of same-sex marriage, accepts climate change science, and favours immigration. To some extent though, he may need to hold back a little on the social front, at least for a while, in order to gain the acceptance of the 44 MPs who voted against him.
The Liberal Party is quite disjointed so Turnbull has a tough task ahead. Abbot was a divisive leader, which has caused a lot of internal stress. He has already stated that he admires the leadership style of New Zealand prime minister since 2008, John Key. Whatever you think of Key’s policies, there’s no doubt he’s been a successful leader, possibly one of the most successful in our history. Key and Turnbull have similar backgrounds – both had careers in investment banking before entering politics. Key is also socially liberal, and that is one of the big reasons he has been able to retain the country’s support for an otherwise conservative government. Turnbull will likely be pointing that out to his socially conservative colleagues when they balk at the idea of policies like same-sex marriage.
Tomorrow he will be announcing some changes to his cabinet, and it’s expected that he will include more women. He has retained Tony Abbott’s deputy prime minister, Julie Bishop. Politics in Australia is some of the most sexist amongst First World countries, and this is a move that is long overdue.
Already, Turnbull has received huge public support. In a poll for preferred Prime Minister, he received 62%. The Labour Party leader on the other hand fell twenty points to receive just 38% in the same poll. That achievement will certainly give him some leverage with his MPs.