Australia conservatives move to stop revolving door of PMs

Sydney (AFP) –


Australia's prime minister on Monday moved to end a series of rolling leadership coups that have battered his party's reputation and left it hobbled ahead of next year's election.

Hastily announced by PM Scott Morrison at a occasionally boisterous late-night press conference, the new Liberal Party rule makes it much harder to oust a sitting leader.

"This has been the great anguish for the Australian people as they've seen this happen in both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party," Morrison told reporters in Canberra of the revolving door of prime ministers.

"They're sick of it and we're sick of it and it has to stop, and that's why we've put this rule in place."

The new rule, decided at a snap Liberals meeting in the capital, will apply to a Liberal leader after he or she has won an election.

It raises the bar for any ousting, with the agreement of two-thirds of Liberal Party members from both houses of parliament now required for a Liberal prime minister to be removed.

It means that if Morrison wins national elections expected to be called by mid-May, it would be much harder to dislodge him from power.

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull was ousted in August in a simple party majority, with Morrison replacing him after seeing off another challenger for the top job, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.

Turnbull's removal in August was the sixth change of national leader in the last decade in a turbulent period for Australian politics.

Turnbull himself toppled his predecessor, Tony Abbott, in another coup in September 2015.

The main opposition Labor party also played musical chairs with their PMs when they were in power, with Julia Gillard replacing Kevin Rudd in 2010 as leader before he kicked her out and returned to power ahead of the 2013 election.

Labor has already moved to stop leadership spills. At least 60 percent of its caucus must vote in favour of deposing an opposition leader, while 75 percent is required for a sitting PM.

The new Liberal threshold does not apply in opposition, but can only be changed with a two-thirds party vote.

Morrison's embattled minority government is already hanging by a thread and struggling in voter opinion polls.

His conservative Liberal-National coalition lost its one-seat parliamentary majority in October after losing Turnbull's vacated seat in a by-election to an independent.

Its hold on power was further eroded when one of Turnbull's supporters, Liberal MP Julia Banks, said last week she was quitting the party to become an independent.