Australia faces seventh PM in nine years

2:47 pm on 29 June 2016

Australia could elect its seventh prime minister in nine years when it goes to the polls this Saturday.

Leadership changes have been so regular that many voters will be wondering who will lead the nation over the next three years - and whether the 2016 federal election might, finally, break the leadership revolving door.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, left, and opposition Labor Party leader Bill Shorten.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, left, and opposition Labor Party leader Bill Shorten Photo: AFP

When Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull ousted his long-time rival Tony Abbott, in September last year, he was sworn in as Australia's 29th prime minister.

Mr Abbott's dismissal followed two similar coups in the Labor Party when it was in office between 2007 and 2013.

The last Australian prime minister to complete a full term was the conservative John Howard, who was defeated by Labor's Kevin Rudd in 2007.

That's in stark contrast to New Zealand, which has had only two prime ministers in the past 17 years.

Anika Gauja - an associate professor at the University of Sydney's department of government and international relations - said it was all too easy for Australian parties to ditch their leaders.

"In the past they've only required a majority support of parliamentarians and, by the same token, if a majority don't support them, they're out the door."

Factions within the parties were also challenging leaders more often, Dr Gauja said.

Dr Anika Gauja from the University of Sydney.

Dr Anika Gauja from the University of Sydney. Photo: Supplied

The Australian public tolerated leadership changes when parties were in opposition - but it was another story when it involved a sitting prime minister, she said.

"There's a perception that the public actually should have some stake in who the prime minister is. So when they wake up and one day the prime minister they thought they had is the not the prime minister they actually have, then I think that is quite unpalatable or offensive to most Australians."

From the Liberals' perspective, a Turnbull win this weekend should be enough to give him some breathing space.

Liberal MP Alex Hawke believed Australians would want a full term from whoever was elected prime minister.

"People are making it clear in polling booths everywhere we go that they want one prime minister and they only want one prime minister this term."

"We lead a strong and united government and I can see Prime Minister Turnbull doing a good job over the next three years."

Mr Turnbull has said the Liberal-National Coalition wouldn't have stood a chance at this election if he had not ousted Mr Abbott last September.

Labor's Bill Shorten has also spoken about his role in toppling two Labor prime ministers.

His thinking had evolved and his priorities had changed after becoming the leader of the party, he said.

One of his senior MPs, Julie Owens, said the level of unity in Labor was the best it has been in years.

"Incredibly good policy work, he leads from the middle. He expects his team to do the work and sets them forth to do it. So there's no doubt in my mind that Labor is more unified that it's been in decades.

"You won't see anything other than stability for the next term, and maybe even one after that."

But Dr Gauja said Australian voters did not trust either party in terms of their leadership.

"They're both just as guilty as each other so I think that they've actually, quite purposely, kept that off the agenda because they both have a shady past in that area. So I think the election is played out more on the qualities of the leaders and the policy issues rather than the threat of a leader disappearing shortly after the election."

She said, in Australian politics, a leadership spill was something that you always had to bet on.

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