Why Australia Is Getting Its Sixth Prime Minister In Just One Decade

August 24, 2018, 10:30 AM UTC

Australia’s ruling Liberal Party just voted in a new leader, Scott Morrison, who will now become prime minister. Morrison, who was the country’s treasurer and previously a hardline immigration minister, replaces Malcolm Turnbull.

While the Australian stock market regained ground after several days of losses incurred during the Liberal party’s leadership votes, the arrival of a new prime minister is no guarantee of stability in Australia.

Australia’s top job has changed hands six times in the last decade with not one prime minister completing a full term—and that’s not even the least stable period of Australian democracy. One prime minister, Harold Holt, met his end while body surfing. The most recent handovers involved less blood-letting and more internal party politics.

This week’s attack on Turnbull came over his energy policy. He had proposed reducing carbon emissions, per the Paris climate agreement, but other members of the conservative ruling coalition pushed him to drop the requirement, ultimately calling his leadership into question.

Part of why Australian leadership has changed so often has to do with party rules. Until recently, both parties allowed elected members of parliament to overturn the party leader. As a result, former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd swapped places with Julia Gillard twice in just over three years.

When Rudd returned to power in 2013, the Labor Party instituted rules requiring the wider party membership to vote on leadership changes, making it harder for elected members to surprise the general public. Today he called on the Liberals to do the same in the name of stability for the country.

Turnbull is leaving Morrison and the Liberal party with a parting gift: he says he will resign from his seat in parliament, opening up a by-election that could hand the seat to the opposition Labor party.