Some of the leading lights of Australian politics in their natural habitats: l-r Malcom Turnbull, Abbott, Peter Dutton

Spill! Spill! Spill? Is Malcolm Turnbull about to get rolled as Australian PM?

Australian prime ministers are like a well functioning train system. If you miss one, there’s always another one just around the corner. In today’s cheat sheet, could the lucky country be about to see a another PM booted?

Hang on, what is a spill?

A spill (pronounced speeeeel) is when a parliamentary caucus all gets together and decides whether or not they should knife their leader. At the moment, the governing Liberal Party in Australia are considering whether or not the prime minister deserves to keep his job.

Who is the current prime minister anyway?

There’s a well-worn joke about how in Australia, paramedics don’t ask people with head trauma to name the prime minister any more, because not knowing who it is will give no indication at all about whether someone is compos mentis. In fact, it could be argued that following politics obsessively enough to know who the Aussie PM is on any given day is a bigger red flag.

But for those who do want to know, it’s a technocratic Sydneysider called Malcolm Turnbull, who took the leadership after a spill against Tony Abbott – an onion-munching, budgie-smugglingclimate-change denier who used to have the job. Abbott’s the kind of guy that renders the conspiracy theory about world leaders being shape-shifting reptillian lizards irrelevant – he quite clearly doesn’t need to shape-shift. Abbott won election in the first place in part because voters were sick to death of Labor’s infighting, in which Julia Gillard rolled Kevin Rudd, only to then herself be later rolled by Kevin Rudd.

So now Turnbull’s in trouble? Why?

To put it blunty, nobody really likes him. That’s not an ideal situation for any political leader. In various polls, his party is trailing in the head to head behind the opposition Labor Party, who are led by a plank of wood brought to life called Bill Shorten. In fact, earlier this year, the coalition (the Liberal and National parties – roughly what would happen if there was an urban/rural split in NZ’s National Party) set a new record for most consecutive losses in the influential Newspoll. In fact, there were calls for Turnbull to resign when he reached 30 consecutive Newspoll losses, because that was the excuse he used to trigger the spill against Tony Abbott. This is another regular feature of Australian politics by the way – people saying opportunistic things that later come back to bite them on the ass.

So does Tony Abbott now have a chance to take his revenge?

Actually, this latest round hasn’t been driven by Abbott. I’m not saying he isn’t fuelled by a vindictive desire to take back what he feels is rightfully his. But the contender that is coming forward in this round is a politician that may be familiar to New Zealanders already, particularly those locked up in detention centres or facing deportation: immigration minister Peter Dutton.

Ah. He sounds nice.

In keeping with the rugged and sometimes racist style of immigration politics in Australia, Peter Dutton has been incredibly harsh on asylum seekers, and raised the bar on human rights breaches to exciting new levels of barbarism. He’s driven a set of policies that are deliberately cruel towards refugees and boat people, which might sound like hyperbole, but it’s actually the point of the policy – treat ’em mean, and hopefully they won’t be keen (to try and get to Australia) A recent quote that sums up Dutton’s approach to asylum seekers trapped in detention on Manus Island: “It’s essential that people realise that the hard-won success of the last few years could be undone overnight by a single act of compassion.”

What would a new Australian PM mean for New Zealand?

Probably not a lot. The relationship is already stretched, in part over the detention and deportation of New Zealanders by Australia, and subsequent broadsides fired back across the ditch by justice minister Andrew Little, and foreign minister Winston Peters. A new PM would likely just be more of the same.

So will it happen then? When will we know?

It could happen very very quickly if it’s going to. Last time around, there were faint rumblings in the afternoon (NZ time) about goings on in Canberra, and then over this side of the Tasman we woke up the next day and there was a new prime minister. And just now, Sky News reported that Queensland Liberal Party President was urging MPs to dump Malcolm Turnbull, and back Dutton instead.

It’s all come to a head today over an energy bill, that Turnbull faced opposition from the climate change denying fringe of the party on, and folded in the face of said opposition. Turnbull has now announced that all climate change targets will be removed from the bill, despite having spoken repeatedly in the past that climate change urgently needed to be addressed. It proves once and for all, that while Abbott can provide photographic evidence of his, Malcolm Turnbull apparently has no balls. And if you’ve ever seen Australia play cricket, you’ll know that they don’t take kindly to displays of weakness.

The final word.

This wise passing motorist probably summed up the mood among the voting public with this immortal assessment of Australian politics.


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