Explainer: What in the world is happening in Australian politics?

If you've been trying to keep up with the Australian political situation, you may have contracted a headache.

Malcolm Turnbull appeared to be Prime Minister, then it looked like it could be Peter Dutton, a bunch of ministers resigned, and it looks like it's far from over.

Newshub explains what is going on, with help from Dr Jill Sheppard, politics lecturer at the Australian National University.

What is happening right now?

The latest information is that Mr Turnbull will hold a party meeting and invite a leadership spill motion to be moved. If that happens he won't contest the leadership, and will leave Parliament. Peter Dutton is tipped to take over, or Mr Turnbull's preferred candidate Scott Morrison.

How did the leadership spill begin, and what's it got to do with climate change?

It started on Sunday evening as tension over the party's climate change policies came to a head. A conservative faction, including climate change sceptics and coal-lovers, had been rallying against Mr Turnbull's proposed emissions reduction policy.

It worked - on Sunday evening Mr Turnbull began backflipping and even alluded to Australia withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. There are similar divisions in the Labor Party.

Why is Australian politics so unstable - has it always been this way?

Dr Sheppard says it harks back to 2010 when then-Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who was "incredibly unpopular" with his colleagues was deposed.

Dr Sheppard says this set a precedent for politicians in both of the major parties to jostle for the leadership over the years until it eventually became almost normal to voters.

Aussies are fined if they don't turn up on polling day. Dr Sheppard says that, combined with the preferential voting system, leads to people reliably turning out to vote for the major parties and "sheltering them from the fallout" they might see in other electoral systems.

Scott Morrison, Julie Bishop, Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull.
Scott Morrison, Julie Bishop, Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull. Photo credit: Getty

Will Malcolm Turnbull survive the spill?

"His last scrap of hope to remain Prime Minister is to make it impossible for anyone to challenge him," Dr Sheppard says.

Will Peter Dutton, who kicked off the spill, become Prime Minister?

As Winston Peters says, if you're going into a leadership spill "you've got to take your abacus". So does Mr Dutton really have the support he needs? Dr Sheppard says behind closed doors a lot of people say they're backing him, but "they're not quite happy to do that publicly." Dr Sheppard says he will struggle to get the support he needs on paper.

Why is Mr Turnbull talking about bullying, intimidation and the far right?

In his press conference on Thursday, Mr Turnbull alluded to bullying, intimidation and the party being pushed to the right. He appeared to be talking about the tabloids and Rupert Murdoch-owned press.

"It was the first time that any politician's said it out loud and it probably will start up a public conversation about just what the media influence on Australian politics is," Dr Sheppard says.

Julie Bishop is running for the leadership - does she have a shot?


Ms Bishop is Foreign Minister and deputy leader of the Liberal Party. Dr Sheppard says she's well-liked outside of Parliament, but probably wouldn't have the numbers within the party.

"She's very capable, she's an incredibly good politician but she doesn't have the trust and personal support of a lot of her colleagues."

Why did Mr Turnbull question Mr Dutton's eligibility to be Prime Minister?

Under the Australian constitution any sitting member of Parliament receiving any form of Government income is ruled ineligible. Mr Dutton and his wife have money in a blind trust with links to Government-subsidised child care centres. Dr Sheppard says "no one really knows" if he'd actually be ruled ineligible by the courts.

What is the public sentiment about this?

It's not good.

 "Australian voters are so sick of this constant leadership turmoil and speculation and obvious hypocrisy from members of the Cabinet and backbench MPs on both sides that nothing the Government or the Opposition do now can really change how voters think about both parties," says Dr Sheppard.

"Our patience with the major parties in Australia is really wearing thin. We look to somewhere like New Zealand where the major parties seem to be able to revitalise themselves, and seem to be able to manage transitions of leaders and articulate really clear preferences on policy and ideology. We're just not getting that in Australia recently."

Will this lead to an election?

Possibly. The new leader could call an early federal election to legitimise their government. Dr Sheppard says Australia will likely see an election in October this year or in May 2019.

What will happen next?

"If I'm forced to make a prediction I would say there will be a leadership contest between Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison, and Scott Morrison will just scrape in with a win," says Dr Sheppard, with the disclaimer that guessing was a "fool's game".