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Australia's Prime Minister Faces Leadership Challenge

Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull leaves a press conference in Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday.
Mark Graham
AFP/Getty Images
Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull leaves a press conference in Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday.

Australia's Liberal Party was in flux Wednesday as opponents of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pushed for new party leadership.

Turnbull remained in his job after Liberal Party members in Parliament backed him in a 48 to 35 vote Tuesday, though he could soon face a fresh challenge.

"The iron laws of arithmetic confirmed my leadership," Turnbull told reporters Wednesday. However, the numbers were an "unconvincing victory," as Reuters described it, leaving Turnbull "vulnerable to another challenge."

Ten government ministers offered to resign following the failed attempt to oust Turnbull, but the prime minister asked eight of them to remain in their jobs.

Turnbull accepted the resignations of former Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, according to the BBC.

Dutton is "the man gunning for Malcolm Turnbull's job," according to ABC News. Dutton says he will challenge Turnbull again to lead the country's conservative Liberal Party if he gains enough support within the government. His new position, on the "backbench," will not leave him "constrained by cabinet solidarity that has seen him lock in reluctantly behind Turnbull's position on the national energy guarantee and tax cuts for big business," according to The Guardian.

It was those tax cuts for business that Turnbull announced he would no longer support after Australia's upper house Senate rejected it on Wednesday. The plan would have cut taxes on certain large businesses from 30 to 25 percent, but it was reportedly unpopular with voters.

"I'm speaking to colleagues," Dutton reportedly told 3AW Radio of the possibility of mounting a new challenge to Turnbull. "If I believe the majority of colleagues support me then I will consider my position," he said.

That move could come as early as Thursday if Dutton is able to force a vote on the matter, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Turnbull also changed course on a plan to put Australian greenhouse gas emissions reductions into law. Australia pledged to cut emissions by 26 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, the BBC reports — though the country "remains on track to meet its Paris climate accord commitments, despite the change in policy."

"Australia has had years of political instability since Prime Minister John Howard lost power in 2007 after more than 11 years in office," The Associated Press notes. "No prime minister has lasted a full three-year term since. They have all been thrown out of power by their own parties in the face of poor opinion polling."

A general election is scheduled for May.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

James Doubek is an associate editor and reporter for NPR. He frequently covers breaking news for NPR.org and NPR's hourly newscast. In 2018, he reported feature stories for NPR's business desk on topics including electric scooters, cryptocurrency, and small business owners who lost out when Amazon made a deal with Apple.