News National Liberal MPs back changes to protect sitting PM

Liberal MPs back changes to protect sitting PM

Prime Minister Scott Morrison outlines the change on Monday night. Picture: Twitter/
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Scott Morrison has backflipped on his previous statements and demanded the Liberal Party change the rules to make it harder to dump a sitting prime minister.

Announcing the changes on Monday night, he pledged the Liberals had listened to voters and would restore their right to choose the prime minister.

The new rules will require a two-thirds majority of the Liberal Party room to roll a PM, a provision that would have saved Malcolm Turnbull.

“You elect the Liberal Party. I will be the prime minister. I will remain the prime minister,” Mr Morrison said.

“They will not be able to be removed from that office. The Liberal Party has listened.

“The parliamentary Liberal Party is saying that its own conduct over this period of time needs to be changed.”

Mr Morrison said the entire party shared the frustration and the disappointment of all Australians over the leadership churn. 

Earlier, Mr Morrison’s attempts to save Craig Kelly’s preselection for the Sydney seat of Hughes prompted Mr Turnbull to privately accuse his successor of doing anything to “keep his arse in C1 (the prime minister’s car) as long as he can”.

“We are sick of it and it has to stop. And that is why we are putting this rule in place,” Mr Morrison said.

The New Daily understands former Liberal leader Tony Abbott strongly supported the change, telling MPs in the meeting: “If human beings were all that we were meant to be, we wouldn’t need rules. But we’re not.”

Coincidentally, the rule change was announced just three days after former prime minister Mr Abbott declared at 61 he was young enough to lead the party again.

Mr Abbott was dumped as Prime Minister in 2015 by a vote of 54-44.

The vote to spill Mr Turnbull’s leadership was even tighter, just 45 votes to 40, triggering a contest between Mr Morrison and Peter Dutton. 

Liberal MPs were called to a special meeting of the party room in Canberra at 7.30pm after the prime minister endured a day of drama involving his predecessor. 

The decision was reached by consensus. Mr Morrison consulted Mr Abbott and John Howard before making the change. 

However some Liberal MPs, including Member for Fisher Andrew Wallace, expressed caution in the meeting.

Others expressed the view after the meeting they were “uncomfortable” with the idea but believed they needed to send a strong message of stability. 

Deputy Prime Minister Josh Frydenberg said it was clear the revolving door of prime ministers had diminished voters’ trust in the political system. 

“The Liberal Party has listened to the Australian people. The prime minister we take to the next election will be our Liberal prime minister after the next election,” he said. 

The party room meeting followed a meeting of the ministry to discuss new rules for leadership challenges for sitting PMs. 

Just weeks ago, the PM insisted he would not change the Liberal Party rules to protect against future coups.

“We have a parliamentary democracy in Australia. It’s not a presidential system … we don’t have any plans to change our processes,” Mr Morrison said. 

In August, former Prime Minister John Howard also argued against the idea.

“I don’t think changing the rules is a good idea,” Mr Howard said. 

After being dumped as prime minister and then launching a leadership challenge against Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd changed the Labor Party’s rule in 2013 to stop coups.

But there has long been debate within the ALP that the laws would be easy to change and there was discussion of this when Anthony Albanese was still seen as a possible contender for the leadership before the next election.

Mr Albanese recently expressly ruled that out. 

Last night, Labor’s treasury spokesman Chris Bowen mocked the Liberals for calling an urgent meeting to “talk about themselves and the leadership again”.

On Friday, Mr Abbott told The Australian he would never rule out a return to the top job.

“I don’t rule any of those things out,” Mr Abbott said. “I’m 61, which is not old. I’m Australia’s best-known backbencher.”

News that the Liberal Party was planning to introduce similar reforms also prompted union leader Sally McManus to joke it was good to see “the Liberals now support Change the rules” – the slogan of the ACTU campaign to change industrial relations law. 

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