Why It Matters

Malcolm Turnbull's uneasy head

Australia's great sportsmen have a reputation for being sledgers - prone to verbally abusing on-field opponents. If its politicians do not watch it, it will soon also be known as a nation of intriguers.

The Liberal Party coup that ousted Prime Minister Tony Abbott continues a tradition where attempted and successful inner-party coups have become all too common. He staved off a leadership challenge seven months ago only to be felled this time by Mr Malcolm Turnbull, who got revenge for Mr Abbott unseating him as Liberal chief in 2009 by one vote.

In June 2010, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of the Labor Party was overthrown by party-mate Julia Gillard, who thereafter was toppled by her predecessor after three years in office. Soon, Labor lost the election that brought Mr Abbott to power.

Thus, Mr Turnbull is Australia's fourth prime minister in three years and the fifth in eight.

Mr Abbott becomes the shortest-serving premier since Mr Harold Holt disappeared while swimming in December 1967, having served just 22 months.

At Mr Turnbull's side last night was Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who was tasked in the last two years with steering Mr Abbott's extremely cosy approach to Washington, DC, and a stiffer position on the South China Sea dispute. Since Mr Turnbull takes a more middle-of-the-road approach than Mr Abbott, Beijing should welcome the latter's departure.

Mr Turnbull is also less conservative in his views than Mr Abbott, who was seen as unsympathetic to the environment, rigid on same-sex marriage and prone to gaffes - his government famously announced a knighthood for Britain's Prince Philip.

But Mr Turnbull is set to rule with an uneasy head.

First, Mr Abbott will not let the insult pass and will doubtless try to do a Rudd on him. Second, Australia's economy, hit by China's waning demand, is staring at its first recession in a quarter-century. Australians are also getting the feeling that while they vote for one person, they wind up getting someone quite different. Should Mr Turnbull last the rest of the government's term, the next election will not be easy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2015, with the headline 'Turnbull's uneasy head'. Print Edition | Subscribe