Malcolm Turnbull at his last press conference as prime minister. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP
Malcolm Turnbull at his last press conference as prime minister. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP

The only way to stop the knifing

THERE are growing calls for changes to Liberal Party leadership rules after yet another brutal knifing of a sitting prime minister.

Malcolm Turnbull was removed from the top job on Friday after backroom rebels gathered the 43 signatures necessary to bring on a leadership spill.

Labor had a similar cycle of revenge - Julia Gillard knifed Kevin Rudd in 2010, and he knifed her back three years later - until Mr Rudd introduced a new rule in 2013 that meant MPs and rank-and-file party members would need to vote before a leadership change.

Mr Rudd has implored the Liberal Party to adopt a similar rule, tweeted that it "helped give Labor 5 years of stability".

Federal Liberal president Nick Greiner said the party could benefit from making it more difficult to hold a leadership spill.

"I'm not opposed to that idea; I think it's an obvious directional thing," he told Sky News on Sunday.

"I don't think it's on the top of (Scott) Morrison's list, nor should it be, but I think the organisation, not surprisingly, would be happy with some sort of model.

"There are already members of the parliamentary party advocating it and Mr Morrison does not have a tin ear, but yes certainly I think it's something that ought to be on the agenda."

His comments follow calls from other Liberal MPs for an overhaul of the rules.

Ahead of the party room ballot on Friday that saw Malcolm Turnbull ousted as Liberal leader, former tennis star and Bennelong MP John Alexander revealed he put forward a proposal to Mr Turnbull and his predecessor Tony Abbott to change Liberal leadership rules.

"It didn't go anywhere and we are now committing another act of self-harm greater than the last," Mr Alexander told reporters in Canberra on Friday.

Scott Morrison was elected as the new Liberal leader on Friday, toppling Mr Turnbull, who himself forced Mr Abbott out of office in 2015.

Mr Alexander wants Liberal rules changed so a sitting prime minister serves a full term and then seeks the confidence of the party room before calling an election.

But former Liberal prime minister John Howard does not agree, pointing out that Labor's process could still be set aside if a majority of the caucus agreed.

"I don't think changing the rules is a good idea," Mr Howard said on Sunday at a Canberra Writers' Festival event, according to a Fairfax report.

"What's the point of bringing in rules if, in any event, they can be set aside?"

According to The Australian, Mr Howard said all governments faced difficult periods of unpopularity and this was a test of the people-management skills of leaders.

"The current rules have produced long periods of stability and long periods of instability,'' he said.

Mr Howard said the mood and behaviour in the party had to change, not the rules. Mr Howard said members were best placed to elect their leaders, suggesting that Margaret Thatcher would probably not have been elected to lead Britain's Conservative Party under a system involving rank-and-file members.

John Howard does not support changing Liberal leadership rules. Picture: Rohan Thomson
John Howard does not support changing Liberal leadership rules. Picture: Rohan Thomson

However, there does seem to be some sentiment for change within the Liberal Party.

Fellow Turnbull backer and Western Australian Liberal Melissa Price also called for the party to adopt Labor-style rules to end leadership turmoil.

Labor introduced a process in 2013 to make leadership contenders go through a month-long process to gain a majority of votes in the caucus as well as a grassroots party ballot to gain the top job.

Asked if the Liberals should do the same, Ms Price told ABC radio last week: "I think we're at that point.

"I think in politics, especially in the Liberal Party, it is far too easy to change the leader. I think we have to have a look at our processes."

Queensland MP Scott Buchholz wants a mechanism to prevent the leadership tension that has thrown the government into crisis.

"Our system is broken. It's time for a review," he told reporters.

Last week's leadership turmoil does not seem to have impressed voters, with the latest Newspoll released today showing the Coalition's primary vote plummeting by 33 per cent.



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