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In
Australian politics The politics of Australia take place within the framework of a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy A constitutional monarchy is a form of monarchy in which the monarch exercises authority in accordance with a written or un ...
, a leadership spill (or simply spill) is a declaration that the
leadership Leadership, both as a research area and as a practical skill, encompasses the ability of an individual, group or organization An organization, or organisation (English in the Commonwealth of Nations, Commonwealth English; American and B ...
of a parliamentary party (also known as a
caucus A caucus is a meeting of supporters or members of a specific political party A political party is an organization that coordinates candidates to compete in a particular country's elections. It is common for the members of a party to hold si ...
) is vacant and open for re-election. A spill may involve all leadership positions (leader and deputy leader in both
houses A house is a single-unit residential building A building, or edifice, is a structure with a roof and walls standing more or less permanently in one place, such as a house or factory. Buildings come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and functi ...
), or just the leader. Where a rival to the existing leader calls for a spill, it may also be called a leadership challenge. When a leadership vacancy arises due to the voluntary resignation or death of the incumbent, the resulting leadership ballot is not a leadership spill. Therefore, the 1968 Liberal Party leadership ballot after the
disappearance of Harold Holt On 17 December 1967, Harold Holt, the Prime Minister of Australia, disappeared while swimming in the sea near Portsea, Victoria. An enormous search operation was mounted in and around Cheviot Beach, but his body was never recovered. Holt was Pre ...
was not a leadership spill, despite the contest involving four candidates. In
Australian English Australian English (AusE,AusEng, AuE, AuEng, en-AU) is the set of variety (linguistics), varieties of the English language native to Australia. Australian English is the country's national and ''de facto'' common language. English is the Lan ...
the use of the word "spill" in this context has a long history, with its first recorded appearance traced to a ''
Canberra Times ''The Canberra Times'' is a daily newspaper A newspaper is a Periodical literature, periodical publication containing written News, information about current events and is often typed in black ink with a white or gray background. Newspap ...
'' article dated 20 August 1945. A leadership spill may result in a new hierarchy, or may confirm the ''status quo''. If the party in question is in government, the election of a new leader will result in a new
Prime Minister A prime minister or a premier is the head of the cabinet Cabinet or The Cabinet may refer to: Furniture * Cabinetry, a box-shaped piece of furniture with doors and/or drawers * Display cabinet, a piece of furniture with one or more transpa ...
,
Premier Premier is a title for the head of government The head of government is either the highest or second-highest official in the Executive (government), executive branch of a sovereign state, a federated state, or a self-governing colony, aut ...
or Chief Minister; if the party is the opposition, the election of a new leader will result in a new
Opposition Leader The Leader of the Opposition is a title traditionally held by the leader of the Opposition (parliamentary), largest party not in government in a parliamentary democracy. The Leader of the Opposition is seen as the alternative Prime Minister, Premie ...
. There were 72 leadership spills between 1970 and 2015; the phenomenon became increasingly common in the early 21st century. None occurred in the 1960s, 10 in the 1970s, 18 in the 1980s, 13 in the 1990s, and 31 between 2000 and 2015. Spills are three times more likely to occur when a party is in opposition compared to when it holds government. The frequent leadership spills and political instability in the 21st century – which saw five changes of Prime Ministers between 2010 and 2018 – has led to Australia being dubbed " coup capital of the democratic world".


Process

In the
Westminster system The Westminster system or Westminster model is a type of parliamentary A parliamentary system or parliamentary democracy is a system of democratic Democrat, Democrats, or Democratic may refer to: *A proponent of democracy Democracy ...
of government, the leader of the party which forms government becomes the
prime minister A prime minister or a premier is the head of the cabinet Cabinet or The Cabinet may refer to: Furniture * Cabinetry, a box-shaped piece of furniture with doors and/or drawers * Display cabinet, a piece of furniture with one or more transpa ...
, while the leader of the largest party not in government becomes
leader of the Opposition The leader of the opposition is a title traditionally held by the leader of the Opposition (parliamentary), largest party not in government in a parliamentary democracy. The leader of the opposition is seen as the alternative prime minister, premi ...
. Contenders for the role of leader of a major party usually (but not always) come from the
cabinet Cabinet or The Cabinet may refer to: Furniture * Cabinetry, a box-shaped piece of furniture with doors and/or drawers * Display cabinet, a piece of furniture with one or more transparent glass sheets or transparent polycarbonate sheets * Filing ...
or
shadow cabinet#REDIRECT Shadow cabinet The shadow cabinet or shadow ministry is a feature of the Westminster system of government. It consists of a senior group of opposition spokespeople who, under the leadership of the parliamentary opposition, Leader of t ...

shadow cabinet
. A leadership spill occurs when a member or members of the parliamentary party feel that the leader is taking the
party A party is a gathering of people who have been invited by a host A host is a person responsible for guests at an event or for providing hospitality during it. Host may also refer to: Places *Host, Pennsylvania, a village in Berks Cou ...
in an undesirable direction or is simply not delivering on promises made to those who elected the leader, and does not have the numbers to back his or her position. A spill may be triggered by consistently poor
opinion poll An opinion poll, often simply referred to as a poll or a survey, is a survey (human research), human research survey of public opinion from a particular sampling (statistics), sample. Opinion polls are usually designed to represent the opinions o ...
s. A spill can be initiated by the party leader in office, usually in the hope of gaining a fresh mandate to quell dissenting voices in the party. It may occur at any time, leaving the person in the leadership position always 'on notice'.


Federal ALP changes

Following his return to the leadership of the
Australian Labor Party The Australian Labor Party (ALP), also simply known as Labor and historically spelt Labour, is the major centre-left Centre-left politics (British English British English (BrE) is the standard dialect of the English language ...
in 2013, Prime Minister
Kevin Rudd Kevin Michael Rudd (born 21 September 1957) is an Australian former politician and diplomat who served as the 26th prime minister of Australia The prime minister of Australia is the head of government The head of government is eithe ...

Kevin Rudd
sought changes to the party's rules so that leadership spills would be more difficult to launch in future. The changes included the requirement for 75% support within the
Australian Labor Party Caucus The federal Australian Labor Party Caucus comprises all the elected members of the Australian Labor Party The Australian Labor Party (ALP), also simply known as Labor and historically spelt Labour, is the major centre-left political party in ...
for a special leadership ballot against a sitting Labor prime minister, or 60% against an opposition leader. Another change was that future leadership ballots would include equally weighted voting rights between the caucus and party rank and file members with each block being counted separately and worth 50% of the total. The rule that a Labor prime minister can only be removed if 75 per cent of MPs agree to force a ballot (or 60 per cent of caucus for an opposition leader) is a caucus-approved rule and was not included in the 2018 National Platform.


Federal Liberal Party changes

Following the oustings of two Liberal Prime Ministers in 3 years,
Scott Morrison Scott John Morrison (; born 13 May 1968) is an Australian politician serving as the 30th and current prime minister of Australia The prime minister of Australia is the head of government The head of government is either the highest ...

Scott Morrison
, who won the leadership spill of 24 August 2018 introduced a new threshold to trigger a
Liberal Party The Liberal Party is any of many political parties A political party is an organization that coordinates candidates to compete in a particular country's elections. It is common for the members of a party to hold similar ideas about politics, ...
leadership change in government, requiring two-thirds of the partyroom vote to trigger a spill motion. The change was introduced at an hour long party room meeting on the evening of 3 December 2018. Morrison said the changes, which were drafted with feedback from former prime ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott, would only apply to leaders who lead the party to victory at a federal election.


Impact

Historically, a governing party's replacement of its leader fails to improve its electoral fortunes. Across state and federal politics between 1970 and 2014, over 90% of governing parties that replaced their leader lost their majority at the subsequent election. The chances of success are higher when the party is in opposition, leading to success at the subsequent election about 50% of the time.


Notable spill motions

The following spill motions occurred during a parliamentary term, rather than in the aftermath of an election loss. Colours denote the party holding the leadership spill motion. Blue represents the Liberal Party, red the Labor Party, and green the National Party.


Federal


States and territories


New South Wales


Northern Territory


Queensland


South Australia


Victoria


Western Australia


In popular culture

An episode of the American TV series Madam Secretary, The Common Defense featured a fictional Australian Prime Minister and one of the main characters Jay Whitman (Sebastian Arcelus) commented that Australia throws Prime Ministers out like confetti. The episode was originally aired on March 24, 2019, and it is an allusion to the real life frequency of Prime Ministers between 2010 and 2018 as a result of leadership spills against the sitting Prime Minister.


See also

*
Leadership electionA leadership election is a political contest held in various countries by which the members of a political party A political party is an organization that coordinates candidates to compete in a country's elections. It is common for the members ...
*
Leadership review In Canadian politics, a leadership review is a vote held at a political party convention in which delegates decide whether to endorse the incumbent party leader or schedule a leadership convention to elect a new leader. In most parties at present ...
and
Leadership convention In Canadian politics, a leadership convention is held by a political party when the party needs to choose a leader due to a vacancy or a challenge to the incumbent leader. Overview In Canada Canada is a country in the northern part of ...
– a very different process of choosing and removing the leader in
Canada Canada is a country in the northern part of North America North America is a continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, ...

Canada
which involves the broader party membership


References


Further reading

* {{Portal bar, Australia, Political science, Politics Organizational structure of political parties
Parliamentary procedure__NOGALLERY__ {{Portal, Politics The category contains articles concerning deliberative assembly, deliberative assemblies, parliamentary procedure, rules of order, legislative procedure etc. Group decision-making Legislatures Meetings Political law ...
Political systems
Political science Subfields of political science include international relations, comparative politics, public law, and political theory. Each subfield tends to overlap with other academic disciplines, such as political history, history, political philosophy, philos ...
Political terminology in Australia