While bitter recriminations mount over his leadership, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has only one duty: to secure Australia’s next executive government.
Mr Turnbull is being told to ignore the angry demands from Tony Abbott loyalists to resign immediately over the Coalition’s electoral failure on Saturday.
Instead, the caretaker PM is being advised by Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodonis and former PM John Howard to focus on reaching a majority.
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is days away from being able to declare clear winners in all 150 House of Representatives electorates after Saturday’s indecisive vote count.
The AEC has 13 days to complete the remaining pre-poll, postal and international absentee votes now being air-freighted home from Australian embassies around the world.
The magic number Mr Turnbull must reach is 76 – half the 150 seats in the House of Representatives plus one.
Mr Turnbull could persuade the Governor General Peter Cosgrove to commission him on 75 seats if he can attach a letter from an MP willing to declare in writing that he or she will act as Speaker.
In exercising his constitutional functions Mr Cosgrove must be satisfied that the person he swears in as PM can survive any no confidence motion on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Hung parliament – Katter to the rescue?
On Sunday with up to 13 seats still in doubt, Mr Turnbull and Mr Shorten started calling independent MPs. Two – Andrew Wilkie in Denison, Tasmania, and Kathy McGowan in Indi, Victoria – confirmed publicly they had taken calls from Mr Turnbull but merely “to open lines of communication”.
Mr Wilkie said he would not be joining any bloc vote of independents to assist either the Coalition or Labor to form a minority government.
In the event that the final count does result in a hung parliament, Liberal sources have told The New Daily that Bob Katter (Ind. Kennedy, Queensland), Kathy McGowan or Rebekha Sharkie (Nick Xenophon Team, Mayo, SA) could be relied upon to write letters to Sir Peter asserting they would support Mr Turnbull in any no-confidence motion in the Parliament.
Senator Xenophon said he would sit down with both the Labor and Liberal parties in the event of a hung parliament. But NXT’s decision on minority government would depend on which party had the most numbers.
“You would be silly to ignore the weight of arithmetic,” Senator Xenophon said.
Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale said he had not been called by either Mr Turnbull or Mr Shorten, even though his mobile phone was fully charged.
‘You’re a disgrace … resign’
“This is a disgrace … after all he’s done to Tony Abbott … this is all we’ve got left?”
Tony Abbott loyalist, News Corp columnist and Sky News provocateur Andrew Bolt has described Malcolm Turnbull’s federal election performance as a “disgrace” and demanded he resign the Liberal leadership forthwith.
On Sky News Mr Abbott’s former chief of staff Peta Credlin, now a commentator, has asserted that the prime motivator for the double dissolution election, Mr Turnbull’s Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) Bill, would be unlikely to pass the Senate given its now diverse composition.
Mr Abbott himself has refrained from expressing any Turnbull-directed recriminations.
Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz said his party had failed to “take the fight up to Labor” particularly over Medicare fears.
South Australian Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi said his party had fallen into strategic error in trying to move away from its political base.
At this stage it appears Mr Turnbull’s leadership has been all but destroyed, in spite of his declaration on Four Corners that the Coalition under Tony Abbott would have lost the election “resoundingly, I can assure you.”
Up for grabs
While Australia now waits for a new government to be formed, not only the ABCC and Industrial Relations bills hang in the balance.
Also in doubt is the enabling legislation required to set up a plebiscite on same sex marriage.
If the plebiscite bill cannot pass the Parliament, any vote on amendments to the Marriage Act to authorise marriage equality could then be moved and carried in the Reps and the Senate on the conscience vote of MPs and senators.
Through all this apparent chaos one of my Tweets from the campaign trail tried to sum up the institutional strength of Australia’s constitutional democracy.
Memo Australians: The public benefits of a hung parliament? You get to see power shift from arrogant executive Govt back to the parliament.
— Quentin Dempster (@QuentinDempster) June 23, 2016
Quentin Dempster is a Walkley Award-winning journalist, author and broadcaster with decades of experience. He is a veteran of the ABC newsroom and has worked with a number of print titles including theSydney Morning Herald. He was awarded an Order of Australia in 1992 for services to journalism.