Australia’s 29th Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, is hanging on to office for one more day, saying he’s waiting for advice from the Solicitor-General about whether Peter Dutton is eligible to sit in Parliament before he’s prepared to step down.
There are concerns that his rival may be in breach of Section 44 of the Constitution over pecuniary interests. The Solicitor-General is due to offer his advice on the issue, which may be referred to the High Court, tomorrow.
“This issue of eligibility is critically important. You can imagine the consequences of having a Prime Minister whose actions and decisions are questionable because of the issue of eligibility,” Turnbull said.
Follow the latest developments in the Liberal leadership struggle here.
Parliament would then need to refer the issue to the High Court, but having been adjourned the House of Representatives earlier today to end the winter session, MPs are not due back in Parliament until September 10.
The complexity of the issue is outlined here by Fairfax Media. Earlier today, Dutton issued advice from his lawyer giving him the all-clear, but leading constitutional lawyers believe he may have a case to answer.
The move not only buys the PM time to try and stave off his seemingly inevitable demise, but also gives the other potential challengers, Scott Morrison, more time to rally votes for his own challenge.
“Australians would be rightly appalled by what they’re witnessing in their nation’s Parliament,” he began his address.
#BREAKING PM not standing down. Says Dutton wanted the House adjourned. He’s waiting for the petition from members for a party room meeting. If he gets it, he’ll call a meeting of the party room midday tomorrow. And he wants SG advice on Dutton before then #auspol @politicsabc pic.twitter.com/JnDLo4irRc
— Matthew Doran (@MattDoran91) August 23, 2018
Turnbull said he is waiting for Dutton and his supporters to demonstrate he has majority support before planning to call the party room meeting on Friday.
A petition from Dutton’s supporters calling for a leadership ballot has purportedly been circulating among Liberal MPs since Wednesday night, but has not yet emerged, however, earlier today, three key Turnbull supporters, Mathias Cormann, Michaelia Cash, and Mitch Fifield, announced they’d withdrawn their support for the PM and wanted a “transition” in the leadership.
That effectively means Tuesday’s 48-35 vote has now shifted to at least 45-38.
In the last 24 hours, 10 ministers have resigned, bringing the total to 12.
Turnbull outlined his plans over the next 24 hours during today’s address, saying if his colleagues vote in favour of spilling the leadership, he will not recontest and leave parliament.
“When the party room meeting is called, I will invite a spill motion to be moved. If the motion is carried, I will treat that as a vote of no confidence and I will not stand as a candidate in the ballot,” he said.
He accused his colleagues and others of bullying and intimidation “to make this change of leadership that they’re seeking”.
“It’s been described by many people, including those who feel they cannot resist it, as a form of madness,” he said.
Turnbull accused “outside sources” of trying to shift the Liberal Party to the right.
Asked about his future if he stepped down, Turnbull said: “I made it very clear that I believe former Prime Ministers are best out of the Parliament”.
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