The Connection Between Leadership Instability and the Leadership Spills of Last Australian Prime Ministers

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Table of Contents

  • Context
  • Introduction
  • History
  • Contributing Factors
  • Impact on public policy
  • Conclusion


The current situation that took place on August 2018 shows that over the last eleven years, Australia has had six prime ministers. Australian politicians spend more time fighting for power and stabbing each other in the back than they do working for the people they supposedly represent. With such political power, this means that Australian Prime ministers are appointed by the majority political party in the federal House of Representatives, not by the citizens. However, the citizens vote in (the party) their representatives in the federal parliament. “Therefore”, these representatives make decisions which impacted many aspects of Australian politics and public policy including climate change, energy, environment, immigration, marriage, tax, and trade.

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This essay argues that there is a clear relationship between leadership instability, and the leadership spills among recent Australian prime ministers that directly relates to their leadership styles. After contextualising the question and providing an overview of Australia having six prime ministers from 2007 onwards, the essay outlines some positive and negative aspects of this situation. Evidence will be presented that clearly shows how the leadership styles of some Australian prime ministers impacts upon the nature of Australian politics by outlining how the leadership spills all started, critically analyses some factors that have contributed towards the situation, and finally examines the enormously corrosive impact on Australian politics and public policy such as climate change and energy policy. General context In 1901, The Constitution was created “as an entity titled The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act” by Cook (2004, p5) that rules and control the government of the country. “Therefore”, the constitution is democracy in contemporary Australia. Cook & Harwood, (2009, p. 22) 2 mentioned, representative makes final decisions which might be positive or negative to the situation and whatever happened in the parliament is reported through television, newspapers, website, or radio to the citizens.


It brings into focus the fact that in the eleven years from 2007 Australia had six Prime Ministers namely Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull in recent time Scott Morrison. Historically, politicians challenge their oppositional party but of since 2010 (Williams, B. 2017) observed that same party are challenging themselves by backstabbing each other. On November 2007, Labor celebrated a historic win over former prime minister John Howard who was in power for 11 years as Kevin Rudd was elected the first labour prime minister in over a decade.

In his administration, Rudd made Climate change a centrepiece also pushing carbon emission trade for adoption. In 2009 he negotiated a deal in the legislation to (Cook & Harwood 2009) secure passage of the bill in senate but was defeated. Due to some policy setbacks and personal attributes, Rudd popularity was declined, which prompt Julia Gillard, who made history by being Australia’s first female Prime Minister to challenged Rudd. This leadership spill occurred in June 2010 when Julia Gillard won the majority parliament party support and votes while Kevin Rudd chose to resign after he declined the contest (Williams, B. , 2017, p. 550).

So, the story of Rudd and Gillard start in 2006, Rudd was Prime minister and Gillard Deputy prime minister labour party, also she was appointed as Minister of Education, Employment and workplace relations by Kevin Rudd. Gillard first year was productive in the office of a prime minister, but the two major policy issues that were at the forefront of Australian Politics was Climate change and immigration which she failed to produce. According to WALSH, on September 2011, Gillard had a more significant challenge with the immigration proposal when the high court rejected the Malaysia solution that sought to deport any asylum seekers to Malaysia that will turned up on Australia shores (2014). This made Gillard losing the prime ministership back to Rudd after the labour leadership spill in 2013. Due to all the drama from the labour party, on August 2013 of same year, the Coalition won the federal election, where Tony Abbott the opposite leader of the liberal party defeated Rudd by a 17-seat 3. 6 percentage point two-party swing (opinion poll) and was sworn in as the 28th prime minister of Australia in September 2013.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC 2013) reported that Mr Abbott claimed his victory by declaring that, "Australia is under new management”. But it seems his declaration of new management failed when his first budget was harshly judged, also breaking promises he made during election campaign, (The Guardian 2015). Abbott lasted two years before Malcolm Turnbull defeated him in the leadership spill on September 2015. Turnbull defeats Abbott by 54 votes to 44 and was sworn in as the 29th prime minister declaring his own change on marriage equality which Abbot was against. And of recent, In August 2018 Scott Morrison beats Peter Dutton by 45 to 40 votes in Liberal spill to succeed Malcolm Turnbull before his resignation in the parliament house. The Sydney morning herald mentioned that since 2007 election Australia has changed its prime minister six times (2018).

Contributing Factors

Therefore, Some of the Reasons could be argued by Kelly Paul (2014), that there is a breakdown in Australian political system ( WALSH 2016 p330), the notion was supported (Kemp, 2015, p. 23) that the problem lies in the Australia politics and not in the constitution or systemic change. Kemp also pointed out that the problem now is in policy and that the system is working as it ought to be.

Thus, some factors to the situation could mentioned that-

  • • the coalitions government feels they must field a candidate that can win them the next election,
  • • the fear of losing power to labour government, they are responsive to the incumbent of prime minister ratings
  • • Need for power and financial gain because being prime minister in Australia comes with a huge salary compare to a Member of Parliament
  • • Personal ambition for one to reach end political goal
  • • Need to response to the masses need for instance the people want less tax, want energy to reduce and affordable so they need a government that can deliver quality of life.

Since the prime minister is not nationally elected unlike president, this can contribute positively or negatively to the country as opportunities are been squandered. The media and big businesses seem to have a right in the Australian prime minister saga, if the big business does not agree with policies being listed, they can simply use the media to negatively campaign and quite often this results in leadership spills.

On the other hand, social media in a way causes these changes, the general public can use the social media platform to protest about policy. Surprising the media widespread showed interest in the demise of Turnbull and his government, following from Rudd to Gillard and then back to the rise and fall of Abbott which has damage the Australia reputation for political stability. Walsh argued that the lack of political authority like that of Abbott leadership led the country in a wrong direction when they were unable to get relevant legislation through the senate due to the poor management skills (2017, p473). Abbott ruled the country rather than govern (Van & Errington 2016, p105).

In suggesting to the issue, Australia prime ministers will have to relearn and reapply some strategies to govern the country by adopting the extreme neoliberal model and highly successful corporatist development model to have a political stability, in agreement Van and Errington laid out three simple solution stating that first regulation of political parties needs to be tighter, second that institutions needs to be reform and finally needs consultation within the law making process to help improve the situation (105). Although, Gillard identified one of the factors contributing to the situation is loss of institutional memory in the public sector to face future challenges with confidence (2015, 468), to support her claim Walsh 2016, defended by stating that such factors have an ongoing impact in contemporary Australian politics (340).

In addition, Williams quoted that political challenges to the post of a prime minister has become common in the parliament most especially between same parties which makes this leadership challenges to be norm in contemporary Australia (2017, p. 550). Impact on contemporary Australian politics Since Howard lost the 2007 election, no prime minister has done a full term in the office. The constant changes of prime ministers do not affect the constitution because Martin, John & Smith (1997, p. 140) noted that prime ministers are not mentioned in the constitution but the federal executive council, legislative and judicial which examined the concept of separation of power (p,139). This constitution expresses the rule of law, decision making, laws and regulations which are made by federal and state political executive. And these laws made are relevant in shaping the Australian society. One set of potential barriers lies (Smith et al, 2012) in the federalism and public service department, the capacity of the government is reduced but imposing a will that pressures the prime minister to carry out tasks, since the inter government ( Smullen, 2014) arrange the electoral vote. Williams (2017, p. 550), observed Australian saw five prime ministers which also include the first ever female prime minister, Julia Gillard.

For instance, Smith examines that critical theory such as feminism approach has to do with gender politics by accessing their class, race and sex in governing a country. He continued by mentioning some other approach such as the institutional that focuses on political structure and the behavioralism that concentrate on political actors (2012), all these formed the Australian politics. This essay research focuses more on the negative aspect than the positive to the contemporary Australian politics as Australian political theorist discovered that recent politics in Australia has seriously damage the regional reputation for political stability in Australia, (Smith, Vromen,& Cook, 2012) and issues related to climate change and energy policy are not been recognised, that even the cost of living is been increased due to the instability. The theorists are afraid that in no time, it might reflect on the country performance in terms of social, economic and environmental aspect.

Impact on public policy

Australian is been admired by many foreigners but the issues of public policy such as climate change and energy policy are not addressed adequately by the leaders as Kelly 2014 believes that Australia is unable to deal with the demand of a globalised world due to its weak public policy in the political system. Kemp 2015, (p23-24) explained that there must be leaders with political philosophies with specific skills like theoretical principled concept of the public interest to fight back against special interest to achieve a successful policy. McAllister, Bean,& Pietsch attribute that an electoral advantage for labor party is the climate change policy that during Rudd government, he was committed in reducing green gas emission by introducing an Emission trading Scheme in 2010 (2012, p194-195), also to expand renewable energy by 20% to ensure that by 2020 the electricity supply in Australia is from renewable sources which was downgraded in 2015 by Abbott government. Besides, one of Rudd government was to ratify the Kyoto Protocol which proved more difficult, so the Rudd government decided that any decision on legislation to limit carbon emission should be postponed until 2012 (p. 195) this however open a way for the surge supporters in green.


There is a significant insight that the parliament system broadly shapes the Labor character and the Coalition which influences individual parliamentarians concern. It is argued that this impact of influence is strongly cohesive in the parliament system and have affect the political system by making it difficult for public policy to be addressed effectively. Therefore, the constitution has nothing to do with the constant change. The issue is more of personal attribute and leadership style just like that of (Van Onselen 2015, Williams 2017) Gillard and Turnbull having similar leadership style, but the media described Gillard a backstabber while Turnbull on the other hand escaped such instead he was portrayed to be taking back the reins (p. 551).

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