Australia’s embattled conservative Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday shook off speculation about the security of his leadership, declaring that he will lead his coalition government into the next election in 2019.
Turnbull, who has faced a horror run in recent weeks, losing his one-seat majority and being called to step down before Christmas, said that he “runs the government” and that his party’s policies would soon be converted into public support.
“I have every confidence that I will lead the coalition to the next election in 2019 and we will win it,” Turnbull told Sky News television. “I am very confident we will be able to see a disciplined approach to teamwork within the coalition.”
Three Australian prime ministers have been ousted by their own parties since 2010.
Turnbull’s confidence has been bolstered by the stunning by-election victory of former Australian deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, who on Saturday easily cruised to victory with a huge 65 percent primary vote.
Barnaby was kicked out of the Australian parliament just more than one month ago because he held dual citizenship with New Zealand, a status he has since rescinded.
Under Australia’s constitution dual citizens are banned from the national parliament.
Barnaby’s win restored Turnbull’s slim one-seat majority in parliament and Turnbull, who is struggling with record-low opinion polls, has claimed the victory as a vote of confidence in his performance.
“Barnaby Joyce has been re-elected member for New England with what appears to be the largest swing to the government in the history of by-elections in Australia,” Turnbull told supporters late on Saturday in Tamworth, a city in Joyce’s largely rural seat in New South Wales.
Turnbull has been under sustained attack for much of this year over issues including same-sex marriage and the scandal-plagued banking sector, and has failed to end widespread disquiet within his coalition about his future as leader.
Conservative New South Wales Deputy Premier John Barilaro on Friday called for Turnbull to step down as a “Christmas gift” to the nation.
The comment came just days after Turnbull was forced into an embarrassing policy reversal, and called a Royal Commission into the country’s banking and financial sector amid mounting political pressure.
Turnbull has failed to stem a flow of disgruntled voters away from his conservative coalition to far-right parties and the fragility of his government has been exacerbated by a dual citizenship crisis, which is forcing a number of lawmakers, like Barnaby, to recontest seats.
One of those by-elections for the blue-ribbon conservative electorate of Bennelong in Sydney on Dec. 16 could see Turnbull again lose his majority in parliament if the opposition Labor achieves a surprise win.
Former tennis star John Alexander is seeking to regain his seat, after losing it, like Joyce, over the constitutional provision barring dual citizens from serving in federal parliament.
Alexander resigned from parliament after saying he was most likely a dual British citizen, but it was revealed later that it was unclear if he was even entitled to UK nationality.
Alexander faces a tougher fight than Joyce.
Dissatisfaction from Turnbull has stemmed from frustration with the dysfunction in Canberra, as borne out by the citizenship chaos, as well a perceived lack of leadership from the prime minister.
Bickering within the coalition has overshadowed some of his government’s achievements and prompted questions over Turnbull’s ability to bring the parties together.
Turnbull’s headaches are set to continue, with a self-imposed deadline of Tuesday for all parliamentarians to disclose their citizenship status that could further destabilize his government.
Additional reporting by AFP
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