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18 February 2015

Exactly one week after the milestone of two years of Liberal government, growing tension in the Liberal party has finally come to the surface in the form of a leadership ballot.

Malcolm Turnbull announced to the media he would run for party leadership on September 14 after meeting with Tony Abbott to request a ballot. While citing a number of reasons for his decisive move, Mr Turnbull listed key issues such as “economic leadership”, “advocacy”, and “respect [for] the intelligence of the Australian people”. Mr Turnbull further detailed the pejorative public image of the Liberal party, having “lost 30 Newspolls in a row”.

That night, the party met and cast their votes, with Malcolm Turnbull being elected as the new Prime Minister of Australia, gaining 54 votes to Mr Abbott’s 44. This marks the fifth Prime Minister of Australia in the breadth of five years.

When asked about the change in leadership, Nathaniel Seddon-Smith, out-going president of the ALP Club said the following:

“While I am very happy to see the back of Tony Abbott, I don’t think a change of leadership is much cause for celebration … Turnbull openly supports $100,000 degrees, cuts to our weekend wages and government handouts to the mining industry. He comes from a background of enormous wealth, and he will run the government in a way that still benefits big business and big money, not workers and the disadvantaged … frankly, it scares me when I hear people say that they think he’s progressive because he sometimes supports marriage equality. If we want a fairer country, we need to change the government, not just the PM”

This sentiment was echoed by Stephen Mitas, President of the Labor Club:

“The change of leader to Malcolm Turnbull has brought a lot of hope to progressives that he will lead on the important issues like climate change and marriage equality. On these specific issues however, we have already seen that Mr Turnbull is willing to sell out on his beliefs, in order to become Prime Minister. And so it seems he will do anything for power’s sake. I do believe Mr Turnbull will be different to Mr Abbott, and I hope the level of debate rises above the personality politics that Mr Abbott loved to play. However, I wonder just how different the new leader will be if a majority of his party room still holds the same, conservative and outdated beliefs.”

George Newman, co-convener of the Greens on Campus Club said the following:

“What to make of Malcolm? It seems that Turnbull at heart is a well-polished market-fundamentalist, who since his last bout as leader has mastered the game of political pragmatism. To that end, he will likely seek to uphold most of Abbott’s policies in the name of keeping the Liberal Party unified. However, it’s unclear what policies Turnbull will discard. When the Abbott regime sought a policy platform which would deeply aggravate and entrench existing inequalities, Australia was shocked: ‘Our prime minister is on a permanent moral holiday’. Over the last two years, majority sentiment was expressed in the nation-wide negative polling and public outrage, culminating in this leadership spill. If Turnbull sticks to the ultra-right wing, bigoted policies of his predecessor, I believe Australia will react as it should and show Malcolm the door.”

Mr Turnbull has produced mixed feelings within the Liberal party. Viewed by some conservative branches of the party as too progressive, he faces a key challenge of uniting a deeply divided party. Matthew Lesh of the Liberal Club argued:

“Malcolm Turnbull came from truly humble beginnings, a broken family forced to move out of their home, to one of our country’s most successful early tech entrepreneurs. Turnbull has the vision, the background, and the skillset to provide visionary leadership for our nation. From here Turnbull’s task is immense. He needs to unite the Liberal Party, develop innovate policy solutions, and ready us for the next election. He is no-doubt the best placed person to undertake these tasks.”

Malcolm Turnbull faces a difficult journey ahead, and many commentators are keenly awaiting for the trajectory of this new government.


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