Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s leadership is on life support and could well be terminated as early as tonight.
In an extraordinary day in Canberra, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has resigned from Cabinet and announced his intention to contest the leadership of the Liberal Party.
He requested Mr Abbott call a ballot for the leadership and in the process essentially declared civil war within the Government.
Mr Turnbull could be Prime Minister as early as tonight, with a leadership ballot to take place within hours.
In an extraordinary press conference at around 4pm Monday, Mr Turnbull didn’t hold back when it came to Mr Abbott’s performance over the past two years as Prime Minister.
“It is clear enough that the government is not successful in providing the economic leadership that we need,” Mr Turnbull said.
“It is not the fault of individual ministers. Ultimately, the Prime Minister has not been capable of providing the economic leadership our nation needs.
“He has not been capable of providing the economic confidence that business needs.”
Mr Turnbull made it clear that he believed Labor would win the next election if Mr Abbott was still at the helm.
“Now if we continue with Mr Abbott as Prime Minister, it is clear enough what will happen,” Mr Turnbull said.
“He will cease to be Prime Minister and he’ll be succeeded by Mr Shorten.”
At this stage it is unknown who Lindsay MP Fiona Scott will support in the leadership spill.
Ms Scott won the seat of Lindsay at the 2013 election and enjoyed extraordinary support from Mr Abbott during the campaign.
Whatever happens, Australian politics is now in turmoil. If Mr Abbott loses the leadership, it will mean Australia has not had a Prime Minister serve a full term since John Howard.
Mr Abbott addressed the nation just after 6pm Monday. In a shock move, he announced that the leadership ballot would take place tonight and not tomorrow morning.
“I’ve been most heartened by the messages of support flooding into Liberal MPs’ offices saying most emphatically: ‘We are not the Labor Party’,” he said.
“The Prime Ministership of this country is not a prize or a plaything to be demanded. It should be something which is earned by a vote of the Australian people.
“There will be a party room ballot for both the leadership and the deputy leadership positions later this evening. I will be a candidate and I expect to win.”
Mr Abbott said he was “dismayed” at the destabilisation within the party.
“I firmly believe that our party is better than this, that our government is better than this and by God, that our country is so much better than this,” he said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said switching the leader of the Liberal Party “changes nothing”.
“Australians know that Malcolm Turnbull is ambitious, but he is ambitious for himself, not our nation,” Mr Shorten said.
“With Malcolm, it will always be about Malcolm.
“Australians rejected Malcolm Turnbull when he was Opposition Leader because he was arrogant and out of touch, and he hasn’t changed.”
It is set to be an awkward few days for Mr Shorten, who is likely to comment significantly on the leadership spill but who himself was involved in the rolling of two Labor Prime Ministers – Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.
– Troy Dodds