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Australia PM Survives Leadership Vote  08/21 08:52

   CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull 
called on his government to unite behind him after he survived an internal 
leadership challenge Tuesday. But several ministers who backed the failed 
challenger offered their resignations in a move that widens the rift in 
government ranks.

   His challenger, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, resigned from the 
Cabinet after the vote but the amount of support he gained surprised many 
people. Turnbull ruled out any retribution against ministers suspected of 
supporting Dutton and said he had invited Dutton to remain in the senior 
security portfolio.

   "I don't bear any grudge against Peter Dutton for having stood up and 
challenged me today," Turnbull said at a news conference with deputy party 
leader Julie Bishop, who retained her position unopposed in Tuesday's ballot.

   "We know that disunity undermines the ability of any government to get its 
job done and unity is absolutely critical," Turnbull added.

   But Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister James McGrath, Minister for 
International Development and the Pacific Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, and 
Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar confirmed within hours that they had offered 
their resignations after backing Dutton.

   "Our conservative base strongly feel that their voice has been eroded," 
Fierravanti-Wells wrote in a resignation letter to Turnbull, a centrist leader.

   "I voted for Peter Dutton ... As a matter of integrity, this afternoon I 
offered my resignation," McGrath posted on social media.

   Other ministers have also reportedly resigned or are planning to resign in a 
move that undermines Turnbull's hopes for his political survival.

   It was not immediately clear whether Turnbull will accept the resignations.

   Turnbull called the vote at a meeting of conservative Liberal Party 
lawmakers as speculation mounted about his support within the government, which 
is gearing up for a general election due early next year. The government has 
trailed the opposition Labor Party in most opinion polls since the last 
election in 2016.

   Turnbull won 48 votes to 35. One lawmaker abstained and another was away on 
sick leave.

   Australia has gone through an extraordinary period of political instability 
since Prime Minister John Howard lost power in 2007 after more than 11 years in 
office. Ousting Turnbull would have been the sixth leadership change since then.

   Next month, Turnbull would become Australia's longest-serving prime minister 
since Howard, having held office for three years and four days.

   Dutton supporters say the former police drug squad detective could have 
amassed enough support to successfully challenge for the leadership if the vote 
had been held Thursday before Parliament takes a two-week break and lawmakers 
won't gather again until Sept. 10.

   Dutton later thanked his colleagues for their "considerable support" in the 
ballot.

   "I believe that I was the best person to lead the Liberal Party to success 
at the next election," Dutton told reporters.

   He said he respected the outcome of the ballot and fully supported Turnbull. 
He didn't specifically rule out challenging the prime minister again. Treasurer 
Scott Morrison will act as home affairs minister.

   Nick Economou, a political analyst at Monash University in Melbourne, 
believes lawmakers are abandoning Turnbull because they fear he will lead them 
to a crushing defeat in the elections.

   Turnbull made a major concession to his opponents within his party on Monday 
by abandoning plans to legislate to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

   The concession avoided having the most conservative government lawmakers 
voting against the legislation in Parliament, openly undermining his authority.

   But former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who was replaced by Turnbull in a 
ballot of government lawmakers in 2015, advised Turnbull in a statement on 
Tuesday that "unity has to be created and loyalty has to be earned. They can't 
just be demanded."


(KA)

 
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