Australian Political Drama

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By: Indriana Kartini*

The drama of political parties has again taken place in Australia after Tony Abbott got himself defeated by Malcolm Turnbull in an internal voting of the Liberal Party on 14 September with the vote result of 54-44.

The result has carried Turnbull to the hot seat of Liberal Party’s leader, and automatically become the 29th Prime Minister of Australia, replacing Tony Abbott who has just governed for only 2 years. This “Party’s coup” has also lengthen the list of leadership shifting in Australia in the last 5 years.

Abbott’s predecessor, Kevin Rudd, was once going through the same thing in 2010. Rudd was defeated by his colleague inside the Workers’ Party who also happened to be his contender, Julia Gillard. In 2013, Kevin Rudd turned over the position by defeating Julia Gillard in an internal voting of the Party and regaining back his seat as Australia’s Prime Minister, though for a short period of time. In a National Election in 2013, the Workers’ Party was defeated by the Liberal Party and held Tony Abbott into his seat as the 28th Prime Minister of Australia.

Leadership Instability

Australia’s political system which upholds the parliamentarian system makes possible for a political party to impeach its leader if seen as not representing the position of the Party or lacking in showcasing good performance for the Party. By that, it is not unusual for a leadership transition to happen before a governance period is over, even more, when the first period is still ongoing.

History of Australian politics since the World War II has been full of shifting in Prime Ministers before the end of governance period, without going through National Election. Since Prime Minister Frank Forde (1945) to Malcolm Turnbull (2015), there has been 11 such shifts took place.

The manuever to impeach Abbott has actually been carried on by the Liberal Party on last February 2015 with an internal voting. This is so by refering to the survey result by The Galaxy Poll which showed the voters for the Workers’ Party (57 percent) has overlapped those for the Liberal Party (43 percent). Besides, 55 percent of the voters also wanted Abbott to step down of the Prime Minister’s seat. The survey also disclosed that the appearance of Turnbull will push down votes for the Workers’ Party from 51 percent to 49 percent.

In an internal voting on February 2015, Abbott was safe from an impeachment effort made for him by voting of 61-39. However, in the second impeachment effort on September 2015, Abbott was insisted upon to hand over the leadership stick to Turnbull, who served as Minister of Communication in his former Cabinet.

The Turnbull Administration

In the National Election in 2013, one of the reasons for Abbott to be elected was his promise to fix budget emergency that was “inherited” from the previous the Workers’ Party’s governance. But, during Abbott administration, the unemployment rate was rising from 5,8 percent in the previous Workers’ Party administration to 62 percent in his. In addition, the economic growth was falling from 2,5 percent in the previous Workers’ Party administration to 2 percent in his. This situation was also made worse by the rising of State’s Debt from 30 billion Australian Dollars to 48 billion. These facts contributed to the declining preference of voters for the Liberal Party.

Despite the fact that Abbott and Turnbull is coming from the same political party, the two figures are having different factions. Turnbull is part of small liberal faction, while Abbott is from the conservative faction. The influence of the conservative faction has dominated the Liberal Party for almost 2 decades. However, bearing in mind the survey result that left the Liberal Party in an unfavorable condition, the conservative faction started to tilt towards Turnbull in the second internal voting.

Turnbull was actually not the favorite figure of the Liberal Party. Turnbull had a socio ideological preference that is more progressive comparing to his colleagues. Turnbull supported the issues which most of the times were not favored by the majority of the Party, such as same-sex marriage, stem cell research, republican state, and restriction relief on abortion. Besides, Turnbull support on the climate change issue, particularly the emissions trading scheme or the carbon trading, was also not a very popular view in between the members of the Liberal Party.

Turnbull’s political view on enviromental issues was, in fact, intersected with the policy upheld by the Workers’ Party. That is why, the appearance of Turnbull’s name on to the table poses a threat for the Workers’ Party, for it may influence the stance of the Workers’ Party swing voters towards the Liberal Party.

Critiques to this leadership transition is also voiced up by the elite in Government’s Coalition (the Liberal and National Party). Senator Cory Bernardi from the Liberal Party stated that, politics in Australia is more likely to be the same as a “circus” stage and is showing the sign of political instability.

The vice leader of the National Party Barnaby Joyce once reminded the Parties’ elites to stop blaming each other in the Governmet’s Coalition which was formed on the National Election in 2013 based on an agreement made between the leader of the National Party Warren Truss and the leader of the Liberal Party Tony Abbott.

The biggest challenge for Turnbull now is how to make the conservative faction of the Liberal Party as well as the conservative voters from the older generation favor his leadership. Besides, the Liberal Party must also learn a lesson from the mistakes made by the Workers’ Party, letting an internal political “noise” between Kevin Rudd and Julis Gillard without taking any major steps to fix it. In this case, the Liberal Party, must assure the losing side, Abbott, to “stay away” from the new governance. If this is left undone, it will not be impossible for the Liberal Party to be left out by the voters in the National Election in 2016. This is just the same as what was done by the the voters of the Workers’s Party who “punish” the Party in National Election in 2013 by shifting their votes to the Liberal Party.

The writer of this article is a researcher in International Politics, Center for Political Research LIPI, and a lecturer in International Relations department FISIP UIN Syarif Hidayatullah. The article was published in Opinion column in KOMPAS, Saturday 19 September 2015.

Translated by: Muhammad Ichsan Fadillah