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Liberal spill: what will happen in the party room

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After days of speculation, Prime Minister Tony Abbott faces a leadership spill that threatens to unseat him after less than 18 months in the top job.

Western Australia MP Luke Simpkins announced on Friday he would move a spill motion against the Prime Minister, to be seconded by fellow WA backbencher Don Randall.

Mr Abbott’s reign lies in the balance with the party MPs expected to vote in a secret ballot after the leadership positions are ‘spilled’, or vacated temporarily, pending the outcome of a vote by members of the parliamentary Liberal Party.

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Mr Abbott came out fighting on Saturday morning with Deputy Leader Julie Bishop by his side, declaring: “I’m expecting this spill motion to fail.”

It was less than two years ago that Kevin Rudd returned to the office of Prime Minister after having been deposed by his deputy Julia Gillard in 2010.

Less than two years ago Kevin Rudd returned to the office of Prime Minister after being deposed by his deputy Julia Gillard in 2010. Photo: AAP

So how does a Liberal leadership spill work?

A leadership spill can be called by any Liberal member of the House of Representatives or the Senate.

Unlike Labor’s Caucus, the Liberal Party room operates on what party sources call “opaque procedures” and “unwritten conventions” under the chairmanship of the leader.

At 9am on Monday a meeting of all Liberal Party MPs will be held.

If the motion for the spill is seconded, a motion to elect a new leader will be put to the 102 Liberal Party MPs.

For the spill motion to be successful, it needs to get at least 52 votes – a majority plus one.

The 21 National Party members of the Coalition are not involved in the vote.

If the motion is passed, there will be a vote for leadership requiring members to nominate.

Candidates will stand and nominate themselves.

Whips will then conduct a call of the roll, to get the exact number of members in the party room. That number of ballot papers will be prepared and distributed for a secret ballot.

Each member will write the name of the candidate they vote for on the ballot and place in a box.

Whips count ballots, rank the candidates in order of votes received and advise the result to the party room.

Then what will happen?

There will be one of three outcomes;

Scenario 1: The motion for a spill fails to gather enough support and is defeated.

Scenario 2: The motion is successful but only Tony Abbott nominates, with no challengers putting their hand up.

Scenario 3: The motion succeeds, members nominate a candidate for leader and a vote on the leadership occurs.

If Mr Abbott recontests the leadership and no-one challenges him, he has consolidated his position, just as if the motion for a spill fails to gather enough support and is defeated.

Malcolm Turnbull
Malcolm Turnbull refuses to talk about the leadership, or back the current leader Tony Abbott. Photo: AAP

Then, Parliament will begin as scheduled at 10am.

However if someone does challenge Mr Abbott, then it will be a fractured party room that must choose between taking a chance on a new leader or sticking with the incumbent.

If the motion succeeds and members vote for an alternative to the existing PM in the leadership vote, Mr Abbott has been ousted as Liberal Party leader and Prime Minister. He would need to visit Government House to advise the Governor General that he no longer has the support of the party room.

The new leader would follow saying he or she does have support. The new leader would then be sworn in as Prime Minister.

More than two?

There is also the possibility of more than two candidates contesting the leadership.

This occurred in 2009 when Mr Abbott won the leadership against the incumbent Malcolm Turnbull, and Joe Hockey.

If this was to occur, a round of elections would be held, with the candidate that won the lowest number of votes eliminated until just two candidates remained.

From those two, the candidate who wins at least 52 votes would become leader.

Secrets in the party room

The Liberal Party’s rules do not spell out whether MPs should cast their votes in secret or by raising their hands or voicing their opinions.

However Chief Government whip Philip Ruddock said on Sunday that the vote would be a secret ballot.

Mr Ruddock also said that because the issue is a procedural matter there would be no debate on the motion.

Some political commentators are saying a secret ballot could be more dangerous for Mr Abbott, because it may see ministers vote against him who would not have if they had to vote in front of their colleagues.

with ABC

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