The Liberal Party will potentially change the rules around ousting its own leaders tonight. Picture: Kym Smith
The Liberal Party will potentially change the rules around ousting its own leaders tonight. Picture: Kym Smith

PM’s sudden move to end crisis

It will now be harder to oust the leader of the Liberal Party after Prime Minister Scott Morrison called a late-night party room meeting and passed new rules to stop the cycle of knifing.

Mr Morrison called the unscheduled meeting just before 8pm (AEST) overnight, passing a motion that now requires two-thirds of the party room to vote on changing the Liberal leader.

The two-thirds majority rule would have allowed both Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott to survive their respective challenges.

Speaking to reporters tonight, Mr Morrison said the rule change was "putting the power back into the hands of the Australian people".

"Australians have the very reasonable expectation that when they elect a government and a prime minister then they should be the ones to decide if that prime minister should continue in that office," Mr Morrison said.

The PM described the rule change as "a historic decision" and said it was "the biggest change of how our party deals with these issues in 74 years".

 

Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg have changed the leadership rules of the Liberal Party. Picture: Gary Ramage
Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg have changed the leadership rules of the Liberal Party. Picture: Gary Ramage

 

Mr Morrison said his party had listened to the Australian people and that they "understand their frustration and disappointment".

"They're sick of it, it has to stop," he said.

Mr Morrison said the two-thirds majority proposal came from the party whips, not himself.

The only safeguard for the Liberal Party will be the two-thirds majority rule which Mr Morrison said "is rarely, if ever achieved".

Mr Morrison was supported by Deputy Prime Minister Josh Frydenberg who said the constant cycle of revenge had "diminished the parliament in the eyes of the Australian people".

"The Prime Minister received very strong support from our colleagues and the issue was discussed fully but we have agreed on a way ahead.

"Our focus is on the Australian people, continuing to deliver them good government and the services they need and deserve," he said.

There were calls to change the Liberal Party's leadership rules in August when former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was ousted and replaced by Scott Morrison.

 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will call for new rules to be introduced around the changing of leaders. Picture: Kym Smith
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will call for new rules to be introduced around the changing of leaders. Picture: Kym Smith

Senator James McGrath was forced to cut his interview with Sky News early tonight to attend the emergency meeting.

"I'm not allowed to talk about what happens in party room, otherwise the whips would do really bad things to me," Mr McGrath said.

At the G20 summit over the weekend, Mr Morrison was forced to explain to US President Donald Trump why Mr Turnbull was no longer the leader of Australia before German Chancellor Angela Merkel was photographed holding a cheat sheet of our nation's leaders.

Ms Merkel met Mr Morrison on Saturday and was photographed holding briefing note that included a portrait of our new PM.

Ms Merkel has been leading Germany since 2005, which covers part of John Howard's reign, plus that of Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Mr Rudd again, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and now Mr Morrison.

Labor changed its rules five years ago after it experienced a similar cycle of revenge - Julia Gillard knifed Kevin Rudd in 2010, and he knifed her back three years later - until Mr Rudd introduced a new rule in 2013 that meant MPs and rank-and-file party members would need to vote before a leadership change.

Immediately after Mr Turnbull's knifing, Mr Rudd called for the Liberal Party to follow Labor.

Current Labor leader Bill Shorten also lashed the Liberals after Mr Turnbull was ousted.

Labor introduced a process in 2013 to make leadership contenders go through a month-long process to gain a majority of votes in the caucus as well as a grassroots party ballot to gain the top job.

However another former prime minister, John Howard, disagreed with changing the rules.

Mr Howard told The Australian in August all governments faced difficult periods of unpopularity and this was a test of the people-management skills of leaders.

"The current rules have produced long periods of stability and long periods of instability,'' he said.

Tonight, Mr Morrison said he had directly discussed the process with Mr Howard.

Liberal backbencher John Alexander called for a change to the rules in August after his close friend Mr Turnbull was ousted as PM.

Mr Alexander proposed Liberal leaders serve a full term before seeking a fresh vote of confidence from the party room before every election.

"It didn't go anywhere and we are now committing another act of self-harm greater than the last," Mr Alexander told reporters in Canberra in August.


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