Who is Malcolm Turnbull, Australia's new prime minister?

Tony Abbott ousted as leader of the Liberal Party by communications minister Malcolm Turnbull

Malcolm Turnbull
(Image credit: Stefan Postles/Getty Images)

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been ousted as the leader of the Liberal Party and will be replaced by cabinet minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The leadership upheaval comes after a wave of poor opinion polls for Abbott, who was beaten by Turnbull 54 votes to 44 in a hastily-organised party ballot today.

In a press conference, held at around 4pm local time, Turnbull put himself forward as a challenger, warning that the coalition government would lose the next election if Abbott was allowed to remain as leader.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

"Ultimately, the prime minister has not been capable of providing the economic leadership our nation needs," said Turnbull, as he confidently resigned from his role as communications minister.

Earlier in the day, Abbott had downplayed leadership speculation as "Canberra games" and "insider gossip", but after Turnbull's press conference he released a statement to say he was "dismayed by the destabilisation" that had been taking place for many, many months.

"The prime minister-ship of this country is not a prize or a plaything to be demanded. It should be something which is earned by a vote of the Australian people," he said, announcing that a party ballot would be held and that he expected to win.

But within hours, the party voted in favour of Turnbull and Abbott was given the boot.

So who is Malcolm Turnbull and what does he represent?

After studying at the University of Sydney and Oxford University, Turnbull briefly worked as a journalist before becoming a lawyer. In the 1980s, he defended former British spy Peter Wright in the ‘Spycatcher’ case, successfully overturning a UK ban on Wright's memoir about his time in MI5.

He later co-founded OzEmail, one of Australia's biggest internet service providers in the 1990s, before becoming an MP in 2004. One of the wealthiest politicians in Australia, Turnbull quickly rose through the ranks and has also served as environment and water resources minister.

He even led the party in opposition from 2008 to 2009 before losing a leadership challenge to Abbott by one vote.

He is known as a skilled orator and has performed well in recent polls, but is said to be less popular among the more right-wing members of his party due to his support for climate change action and gay marriage.

Miranda Devine at Australia's Daily Telegraph says these issues will be Turnbull's "two litmus tests" as he will need to "prove he has what it takes to be a leader and keep the conservative base of the Liberal party on side".

In today's press conference, Turnbull said the country needed a "different style of leadership" amid big worldwide economic changes. "We need advocacy, not slogans. We need to respect the intelligence of the Australian people," he said.

Turnbull criticised the party for failing to translate into policy its values of free enterprise, individual initiative and freedom.

"The only way we can ensure that we remain a high-wage, generous social welfare net, first-world society is if we have outstanding economic leadership, if we have strong business confidence," he said.

"That is what we in the Liberal party are bound to deliver and it's what I am committed to deliver if the party room gives me their support as leader of the party."

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.