Australian PM refuses to concede, dangles second leadership ballot
* Senior ministers desert PM Turnbull, back rival
* Second leadership vote could happen on Friday
* Treasurer and Foreign Minister will stand - media
* Parliament adjourned by embattled government
* Voters angry at political instability
(Adds detail on leadership spill, updates performance of local
By Colin Packham
CANBERRA, Aug 23 (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister
Malcolm Turnbull stubbornly clung to power on Thursday as senior
ministers deserted him, saying he would hold a second leadership
vote on Friday only if he received a letter signed by a majority
of ruling party members.
Former home affairs minister Peter Dutton narrowly lost a
challenge against Turnbull on Tuesday and has declared he would
again contest a Liberal party leadership vote, while media
reported the treasurer and foreign minister will also be
candidates if a vote is called.
Key Turnbull supporter Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said
Turnbull no longer had majority party support and Dutton was now
the best person to lead the government to the next election, due
by May 2019.
Several ministers have tendered their resignations. The
leadership crisis saw the government adjourn parliament on
Thursday until September.
Turnbull said if he received a letter requesting a fresh
vote with the signatures of 43 Liberal Party lawmakers, he would
call a party meeting for midday Friday (0200 GMT). If a
sc-called leadership spill motion was then passed, he would not
stand in the vote.
A leadership spill motion is a vote to declare the
leadership of a political party vacant, allowing an open
Australian media reported on Thursday that Treasurer Scott
Morrison and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop would contest the top
job if the spill motion is passed.
Morrison has been a Turnbull supporter, but has reportedly
long held ambitions to be prime minister.
Bishop, foreign minister for almost five years, has been
deputy leader of the Liberal Party since 2007.
Whoever emerges as the next prime minister will become
Australia's sixth in less than a decade. None of them, including
two stints for Labor leader Kevin Rudd, have served a full term.
"Australians will be rightly appalled by what they are
witnessing in their parliament," Turnbull told reporters in
The revolving political door has angered and frustrated
voters and the business sector.
The uncertainty has clouded the outlook for investors who
punished the Australian dollar, sending it 0.9 percent
lower to $0.7283. The Aussie was the worst performing major
currency on Thursday.
Australian shares are down more than 1.5 percent
since the first leadership challenge this week.
"For everybody in the country what is happening in Canberra
is disappointing and frustrating. Business likes certainty and
confidence in what happens in the future. Anytime we see
uncertainty like what is happening in Canberra it is not
helpful," said Qantas CEO Alan Joyce.
Turnbull said the leadership crisis was an "internal
insurgency" to move the Liberal party to the far right.
"A minority in the party room, supported by others outside
the parliament, has sought to bully, intimidate others into
making this change of leadership," he said.
"It's been described by many people ... as a form of
Turnbull sought to raise doubts over Dutton's ability to
continue sitting in parliament, with reports he has financial
interests in daycare centres which receive government funding.
The constitution bans lawmakers benefiting from state funds.
Turnbull said he asked Australia's most senior legal officer
to provide advice on Dutton's eligibility.
"I cannot underline too much how important it is that anyone
who seeks to be prime minister of Australia is eligible to be a
member of parliament," Turnbull said.
Adding pressure on rebel lawmakers, Turnbull said he would
resign from parliament if he lost the leadership, threatening
the government's one-seat majority.
Turnbull came to power in a party-room coup in September
2015. A social liberal and multi-millionaire former merchant
banker, he has struggled to appeal to conservative voters and
only narrowly won a general election in 2016.
The ruling Liberal-National coalition government has
consistently trailed the opposition Labor party in opinion
polls, but Turnbull has remained the voters' preferred prime
minister over Labor leader Bill Shorten.
Shorten said the "cannibalistic behaviour" over the Liberal
leadership was eating the government alive.
"Australia no longer has a functioning government," he told
(Reporting by John Mair, Swati Pandey, Sonali Paul, Colin
Packham and Wayne Cole
Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)
First Published: 2018-08-23 03:30:52
Updated 2018-08-23 10:38:27
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