Scott Morrison has moved to close the revolving door over the prime ministership, with the Liberal Party following Labor by introducing new rules making it harder to stage a leadership coup.
In a surprise announcement on Monday night, Mr Morrison and deputy Liberal leader Josh Frydenberg announced that two-thirds of Liberal MPs would need to vote in favour of a leadership spill when the party was in government. The process when in opposition remains a simple majority.
The supermajority threshold only applies to leaders who have been elected into the nation’s top job by the public. That means Malcolm Turnbull would have still been in power if the rules had been in place in August.
The new rules went through Cabinet and was overwhelmingly backed by a snap party room meeting, Mr Morrison said.
He said they reflected public sentiment which had been disgusted by the regular changes of prime ministers – six over the past decade.
“They’re sick of it and we’re sick of it and it has to stop. That’s why we’ve put this rule in place,” the Prime Minister said.
“We’ve seen it on both sides of politics. We understand that disappointment, we understand that frustration. We acknowledge it and we take responsibility for it.”
Mr Morrison said he had consulted former prime ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott but not Mr Turnbull.
The churn in the nation’s top job was noted by leaders at the G20 summit in Argentina over the weekend, to Australia’s detriment on the world stage.
Mr Morrison’s move follows comes after his predecessor Mr Turnbull very publicly reminded voters of the circumstances of his demise at the hands of the party room in August.
Mr Turnbull tried to thwart attempts to re-endorse one of his prime movers behind his downfall, NSW Liberal MP Craig Kelly. In a test of his authority, Mr Morrison prevailed with the NSW Liberal state executive cancelling preselections, saving Mr Kelly.
The new rules would have made it much harder to remove Mr Turnbull. During the bitterly contested leadership campaign in August, Mr Turnbull challenged his enemies to produce 43 signatures on a petition before he would call a party room meeting to resolve the leadership.
The motion to spill the leadership was carried 45 votes to 40. Mr Morrison ultimately prevailed by the same numbers over chief rival Peter Dutton. Earlier in that week, Mr Turnbull had narrowly survived a spill motion he called of his own volition 48 votes to 35.
Only two Liberal prime ministers have ever lost their job in the party room, Mr Abbott and John Gorton. Mr Abbott was challenged by Mr Turnbull in September and lost 54 votes to 44 – a 55 per cent strike by colleagues against him.
Mr Gorton famously used a casting vote to break a tie and turf himself from office in 1971.
While the rules make it more difficult to change a Liberal prime minister, Labor’s leadership rules set a higher threshold. The rules, pushed through by Kevin Rudd upon his return to the prime ministership in 2013 require 60 per cent of MPs to back a spill in opposition, rising to 75 per cent to roll a Labor prime minister.
Labor’s rules then allow grassroots members to vote on the leadership, with their votes enjoying a 50 per cent weighting.