Junk Explained: What The Hell Just Happened To The Liberal Party?

Read this if you have no clue what a #LibSpill is, or why Twitter's going nuts this morning.

lib spill dutton turnbull

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If you had the great misfortune of being tuned into Twitter and/or news media this morning, you might have noticed everyone going absolutely nuts talking about Malcolm Turnbull, Peter Dutton, and something called a #LibSpill. If you have no idea what that is, or who’s even Prime Minister right now, we’re here to help.

For a few weeks now, there have been whispers that Peter Dutton, the Minister for Home Affairs, Immigration and Border Protection, might be getting too big for his boots. You remember Peter Dutton — he’s the guy who looks like a potato, and also the guy behind the horrendous offshore detention regime on Manus Island and Nauru.

The speculation really leapt into overdrive over the weekend after the PM embarrassingly backed down over his signature energy policy, the National Energy Guarantee. This backdown managed to piss pretty much everybody off: conservatives didn’t think the PM went far enough, while moderates thought he had abandoned his principles.

Peter Dutton

Peter Dutton: living potato.

According to the rumours, Dutton has spent the past few weeks being urged by colleagues to challenge Malcolm Turnbull for leadership of the Liberal Party. And because the Liberal Party is currently in government, whoever leads it also gets to be Prime Minister — Australia’s not like the US, where the leader is directly elected by the people.

There are a few ways a leadership challenge can come about. Sometimes the challenger (e.g. Dutton), is the person who calls for it. Today, it was Malcolm Turnbull who declared that the leadership of the Liberal Party was vacant, and called a vote on who would fill it. This vote is called a leadership spill, and Australia has had a lot of them recently.

In 2015, Turnbull became Prime Minister when he beat Tony Abbott in a leadership spill. Julia Gillard won the leadership from Kevin Rudd in a spill back in 2010, only to have Rudd win it back in yet another in 2013. They’re just the recent successful ones — there have been plenty of awkward moments where people have challenged the leadership and lost, and the leadership has remained the same.

But Why Would Malcolm Turnbull Willingly Declare His Position Vacant?

At this point you may be wondering: why was Malcolm Turnbull the one to call the spill and give Dutton a shot at the leadership today? At face value it seems like a very silly thing to do, handing someone a chance to steal your (very fancy) job.

The answer is that it was a strategic move on Turnbull’s part: by calling the spill first, he was trying to make sure the vote happened before Dutton gathered enough support to overtake him. And in this case, it worked — the spill’s already over, and Turnbull beat Dutton 48 votes to 35.

That means Turnbull will remain our Prime Minister for now, although a 48-35 vote was pretty uncomfortably close. Meanwhile, Dutton has resigned from his cabinet position as Minister for Home Affairs. He’s still in Parliament, but he’ll move to the backbench, a slightly less important position. From there, it’s possible he could try for Malcolm’s job again in future if his popularity improves, as there’s nothing ruling out another spill. In fact, there are already whispers that there might be a second spill as soon as Thursday, which would make my work week absolute hell.

That, however, is just speculation for now. At the end of the day, here’s all you need to know about today’s drama: Turnbull called the vote, Peter Dutton put his hand up for the job, and the Liberal Party very narrowly decided they’d rather stick with Turnbull for now. The whole thing was over in just 15 minutes — hell, if you were on a coffee run from 9:10 to 9:31 this morning, you might have missed the entire thing.