Canberra Is An Absolute Mess Tonight And No One Knows What’s Going On
A lot of weird shit is happening in Canberra now.
A day after Malcolm Turnbull narrowly defeated Peter Dutton to remain as leader of the Liberal Party, another move is on tonight to unseat the PM, but it’s not at all clear if that move will actually lead to anything, or even if the move exists at all.
Rumours began swirling this evening that conservative Liberal MPs were circulating a letter to the Prime Minister, demanding that he call a special partyroom meeting to settle the leadership issue, following another messy day for the PM.
The text of the letter being circulated for another spill: “Dear Prime Minister, We, the undersigned, request that you call a meeting of the Joint House Parliamentary Liberal Party, as soon as practicable, for the purpose of determining the leadership of the Party".@9NewsAUS
— Chris Uhlmann (@CUhlmann) August 22, 2018
The day began with Dutton giving several radio interviews in which we confirmed he was still aiming for the top job, while setting out a policy platform that included plans to restrict immigration and lower electricity prices (at a massive cost the budget). Dutton also tried, and failed, to convince us he’s human.
Meanwhile in Parliament, the government once again failed to get its much-maligned company tax cuts through the senate, forcing the PM into one final embarrassing backdown — in a long, uncomfortable press conference the PM dropped his signature policy, acknowledging that he had no chance of getting it passed in this Parliament.
The PM was immediately asked if he had the support of this party, including the two men standing beside him — conservative powerbroker Matthias Cormann and Treasurer Scott Morrison — prompting Morrison to put his arm around the PM in a weird show of camaraderie.
Q: Can you rule out any leadership ambitions?
Morrison: Me? This is my leader and I'm ambitious for him!
Turnbull: Good on you, thank you ScoMo. pic.twitter.com/XsMZ7OoqF7
— Alice Workman (@workmanalice) August 22, 2018
In Question Time, several senior ministers who voted against Turnbull yesterday were forced to stand up and say that they now support him (they don’t).
Things then went pretty quiet for a few hours until conservative broadcaster Alan Jones (of all people) suggested that a partyroom meeting would be called for tonight. That set off another flurry of speculation, including prominent journalists breathlessly referring to their sources, who claimed all sorts of things, then retracting their claims minutes later.
Get ready. Party room meeting tonight. Goodbye Malcolm who doesn’t have the numbers. #auspol
— Alan Jones (@AlanJones) August 22, 2018
Among those rumours were that Matthias Cormann had resigned as a minister (denied), Scott Morrison would run for the leadership either with or without Turnbull’s blessing (denied), Social Services Minister Dan Tehan had resigned (denied), and Workplace Minister Michaelia Cash had withdrawn her support for the PM (denied).
It appears that a lot of the rumours being circulated tonight are coming from Dutton supporters who are trying to make themselves seem more powerful than they actually are — and some sections of the media are really taking the bait.
Earlier tonight, ABC News Managing Editor Gillian Bradford tweeted that the number of signatures on the supposed letter was in the low single figures, and everyone was getting excited about nothing.
Inhale. The agitators are using the media here to build a sense of momentum. They drip feed numbers of people signing the letter. But we are still in low single figures. @politicsabc This follows the pattern of announcing resignation offers last night
— Gillian Bradford (@bradders2) August 22, 2018
So in short, it’s a huge clusterfuck and no one really knows what’s going on.
The most likely outcome seems to be that another leadership spill will be called some time tomorrow. Whether Malcolm Turnbull stands isn’t clear — he may get behind a compromise candidate like Scott Morrison or Julie Bishop just to thwart Dutton, or he may stand again and hope for the best. One thing that is clear is that Dutton will be standing again for the leadership.
If any of that changes, we’ll let you know here.