Malcolm Turnbull became leader of the Liberal Party on Monday night, defeating Tony Abbott by 54 votes to 44 in a ballot. He will be sworn in on Tuesday as prime minister of Australia.
Addressing reporters and the nation after securing the victory, flanked by the re-elected deputy leader, Julie Bishop, the prime minister-designate first chose to pay tribute to the man he had just removed.
“I want to say at the outset what a great debt the nation owes to Tony Abbott and, of course, to his family, Margie and their daughters. The burden of leadership is a very heavy one.”
“Tony has discharged that as leader of the party and, of course, as Prime Minister over many years now and the achievements of the government that he has led have been formidable.”
He noted border security and the securing of several free trade agreements as the government’s greatest achievements under Mr Abbott. He also cited last week’s decision to increase Australia’s refugee intake in the face of the Syria crisis.
New leadership, new vision
Mr Turnbull said he was humbled to take on the responsibility of leadership of the nation and described the day’s events as a “very important, sobering experience”
In outlining how he would carry out that responsibility, he said his focus would be the economy, suggesting the government under Mr Abbott’s had failed to effectively communicate the need for reform.
“We need to have in this country and we will have now, an economic vision, a leadership that explains the great challenges and opportunities that we face.
Shift to the centre
Mr Turnbull also hinted at a determination to pull his party back to the centre, in a thinly veiled response to the notion that, under Mr Abbott, the party had become too conservative.
“This will be a thoroughly Liberal government. It will be a thoroughly Liberal government committed to freedom, the individual and the market.”
“The Australia of the future has to be a nation that is agile, that is innovative, that is creative, he added.
“We can’t be defensive, we can’t future-proof ourselves. We have to recognise that the disruption that we see driven by technology, the volatility in change is our friend if we are agile and smart enough to take advantage of it.”
He said that it was an exciting time to be alive and to be Australia and again promised to communicate the government’s agenda more effectively.
“We will ensure that all Australians understand that their government recognises the opportunities of the future and is putting in place the policies and the plans to enable them to take advantage of it.”
New office culture
When asked about how the Coalition would function under his leadership, Mr Turnbull said the prime minister is not a president, alluding to the notorious so-called ‘captain’s calls’ that marked his predecessor’s term and which he had criticised in his speech earlier today on announcing his challenge.
“There are few things more important in any organisation than its culture,” he said.
“The culture of our leadership is going to be one that is thoroughly consultative, a traditional, thoroughly traditional cabinet government that ensures that we make decisions in a collaborative manner.”
When asked by a reporter if his ascension to the leadership would have any effect on the government’s position on climate change, in the only moment he appeared not so sure footed, Mr Turnbull strongly defended the current policy. However, he reiterated an observation that policies, by nature, evolve.
The prime minister-designate said that he expected the government to run its full term into the spring of 2016.
Timeline of a snap coup
It was the climax of an afternoon and evening of shock and high drama, after Mr Turnbull publically declared his challenge at around 4:00pm following the intense speculation which had been bubbling all day.
At about 6:15pm Mr Abbott announced that he was calling the party room meeting for later in the evening to hold the ballot.
The meeting began just after 9:15pm with the result – that Malcolm Turnbull had won 54 votes to Tony Abbott’s 44 and would become prime minister – announced at 9:50pm.
Mr Turnbull will be Australia’s 29th prime minister, and the fifth PM in eight years.
IMAGE: Prime Minister-designate Malcolm Turnbull with Deputy Leader Julie Bishop following the leadership vote. (Stefan Postles/Getty Images)