Australia has its 30th Prime Minister in Scott Morrison, defeating Peter Dutton 45 votes to 40 after Julie Bishop was eliminated in the first ballot. Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg was elected deputy Liberal leader.
Morrison leapfrogged Dutton in the final ballot after garnering the moderate vote that had backed Bishop.
But will the extraordinary and chaotic senses in Canberra over the past few days only herald more uncertainty in the coming weeks and months?
There are three key questions that will need to be answered:
Will there be an early election?
The election can be held as late as May next year but Labor is already on stand-by for a snap poll. New PM Morrison has said there will be no early election. That reflects the reality of the damage down to the party’s electoral fortunes by the leadership contest and the need for time to repair and, if possible, recover.
The Coalition is also not ready for an election. The Liberal and National parties have not preselected candidates in all seats and the state organisations are perceived as being cash-strapped and unready for an early poll.
But circumstances may take the timing of the election out of Mr Morrison’s hands.
Deposed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said he will not serve out the remainder of his term on the backbench, delivering the new PM an unwanted early test of his popularity with a by-election in Wentworth. The PM may argue to the Governor-General that with only about eight months at the most until a general election, there is no need for a by-election.
While Wentworth is a safe Coalition seat, it is also moderate Liberal heartland. How will locals respond to the socially conservative new PM in Morrison if there is a by-election? A loss in Wentworth, while unlikely, would cost the Coalition its one-seat majority and possibility trigger a general election.
At least one National MP have also threatened to defect to the crossbenches if there was a change in leadership, again threatening the survival of a Coalition Government and bringing on a general poll.
Even without a Wentworth by-election, the Coalition’s numbers would fall from 76 to 74 with a defection to the cross-bench, leaving the Morrison Government in a precarious position, relying on a mostly hostile crossbench to cling to power.
Who will be on the new frontbench?
Morrison is likely to make fewer changes than Peter Dutton would have to frontbench personnel with a mixture of conservatives and moderates. But there will be a shake-up of who holds which portfolios. Clearly there will be a new Treasurer with Frydenberg a strong prospect but Communications, Jobs, Energy and Education are among key portfolios that may also have new ministers. Tony Abbott’s resurrection to the frontbench now appears unlikely unless Morrison feels the need to mollify conservative MPs and commentators who brought down Turnbull.
Will there be new policies?
Scott Morrison condemned Peter Dutton’s flagged dropping of the GST from residential electricity prices so don’t expect any change there although the politically sensitive issue of energy pricing will still need to be addressed. And Turnbull had already dumped company tax cuts which the new PM is now unlikely to revisit.
But what other policies will Scott Morrison likely to advocate? Turnbull’s critics claimed the now ex-PM was Labor-lite. The conservatives in the party, who waged a war against Turnbull, are unlikely to retreat despite their candidate Dutton’s defeat. But a lurch to the right in policy areas like immigration and energy risks alienating moderates in the Liberal Party who were important in securing Scott Morrison the leadership.