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Turnbull holds on

THE count hadn’t been completed yet in Australia’s triennial federal election and questions were already being raised about party leadership. How long would Malcolm Turnbull be able to hold on as head of the Liberal Party? Would Bill Shorten step aside as leader of Labor? Turnbull’s position was looking shaky because he had called the double dissolution election and exhorted Australians to vote for the kind of stable government that he said only his coalition could provide.

He was also anticipating a massive win. He won but it wasn’t the decisive victory he’d been hoping for. His partnership with the Nationals staggered over the line in a protracted count, taking 76 seats in the 150-seat lower House of Representatives. Not only had Turnbull not received the mandate he was looking for, he was facing a Senate that was even more hostile than before.

There were misgivings too about his ability as leader because his party had come out of the election with less seats than it had when it went in. Labor, on the other hand, has a policy of declaring its party leadership vacant in the event of a federal election defeat. The result meant its leadership itself was up for a vote.

The party rallied around Shorten. Anthony Albanese, the man who was expected to mount a challenge, didn’t. What he also did not do was rule out a contest further down the road. What this points to is a future of instability at the federal level in two of Australia’s main political parties. More importantly for the country, it means Turnbull will be a distracted Prime Minister. 

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