Australia's political crisis: Support for govt slumps after Malcolm Turnbull's ouster; Scott Morrison promises stability

The support for Australia's coalition government has dropped to its lowest in a decade after it dumped Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister and installed Scott Morrison last Friday following a week of chaos, an opinion poll showed on Monday.

The latest Newspoll, published by The Australian, also showed Opposition Labor leader Bill Shorten, who had long trailed Turnbull, is now the preferred prime minister. The poll also showed that voters considered Julie Bishop, and not Morrison, to be the right person to head the Liberal Party. The popular foreign minister has since resigned and moved to the backbench.

File image of former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull. AP

File image of former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull. AP

Bishop announced she would move to the backbench and had not yet decided whether to contest the next election, which is due by May 2019. She had been foreign minister since 2013 and was replaced by former defence minister Marise Payne in the new Cabinet line-up announced by Morrison after Bishop resigned.

Morrison was sworn in as prime minister Friday after winning a Liberal Party leadership challenge against incumbent moderate Malcolm Turnbull. The challenge had been instigated by home affairs minister Peter Dutton, whom Morrison defeated in a secret ballot.

Turnbull has endured discontent with his leadership in recent months, fuelled by poor opinion polls, by-election losses, and general mistrust, according to The Guardian.

Even though he survived the initial leadership challenge, several ministers who backed the failed challenger offered their resignations. Even as Turnbull rejected any retribution against ministers suspected of supporting Dutton, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister James McGrath, Minister for International Development and the Pacific Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar confirmed within hours that they had offered their resignations.

Dutton tried again after the resignations and it turned into a three-way contest with Dutton, Morrison and Bishop. Morrison won a party vote 45-40 and, was officially sworn in as Australia's 30th prime minister late Friday in a ceremony in the capital.

He has inherited leadership of a coalition between the Liberal and National parties whose one-seat majority will have to be defended when a by-election is held for a safe Sydney seat that Turnbull is set to vacate. The new prime minister unveiled his "new generation" cabinet on Sunday.

"This new Liberal-National team is a next-generation team," Morrison told reporters in Canberra of the governing coalition between the Liberals and the rural-based Nationals party. "What we have done today in pulling this team together is provide for stability... it does begin the process of healing."

The environment and energy portfolio, which was held by the man who is now Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, was also broken up in an acknowledgement of the tensions the two issues caused within the party.

Environment and energy policies were key bones of contention between Turnbull and the right-wingers, who wanted him to prioritise older electricity generation sources such as coal over renewables and emissions mitigation.

Angus Taylor was chosen as energy minister, tasked with the job of lowering soaring electricity prices. MP Melissa Price, who represents major mining and agriculture centres in Western Australia state, picked up the environment ministry.

Marise Payne, the former defence minister, was given the foreign affairs portfolio after Bishop's resignation. Moderate Christopher Pyne was promoted to defence minister.

Morrison promises stability

Promising a stable government, Morrison said, "We will provide the stability and the unity and the direction and the purpose that the Australian people expect of us." "The work of government continues. I want to assure all Australians that those normal wheels are turning," he added.

Morrison has been dubbed the "accidental prime minister" because he had no plans to nominate until Thursday, when Turnbull declared he would not recontest his job.

File image of new Australian prime minister Scott Morrison. Reuters

File image of new Australian prime minister Scott Morrison. Reuters

He also admitted the extraordinary scenes in the nation's capital had taken a heavy toll on Parliament and the Liberal Party.

"Our job... is to ensure that we not only bring our party back together, which has been bruised and battered this week, but that will ensure we bring the Parliament back together, that we can continue to work to ensure that our country stays close together."

He said his top priority was to help farmers in New South Wales struggling through one of the worst droughts in half a century. "This is our most urgent and pressing need right now," Morrison said.

Turnbull likely to quit politics

Turnbull became the fourth prime minister to be dumped by his or her own party since 2010 in an extraordinary period of political instability that frustrates most Australians. He said he would quit politics "not before too long" and blamed his downfall on a campaign by hard-right lawmakers backed by "powerful voices" in the conservative media.

"There was a determined insurgency from a number of people," Turnbull said. "It was extraordinary. It was described as madness by many and I think it's difficult to describe it in any other way." Turnbull said he was impressed by his party's decision not to reward Dutton and to elect Morrison, whom he descried as a "very loyal and effective treasurer."

With inputs from agencies


Updated Date: Aug 27, 2018 13:14 PM

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