Prime ministers and recent Liberal Party leadership challenges

On Tuesday 15 September 2015 Malcolm Turnbull was sworn in as Australia’s 29th Prime Minister. This resulted from a challenge by Mr Turnbull to Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s leadership of the federal Parliamentary Liberal Party on the 14 September. Mr Turnbull stated that Mr Abbott had failed to provide economic leadership and called for the restoration of traditional cabinet government. Mr Turnbull also announced that he had resigned his position as Minister for Communications.

Mr Abbott called a party room meeting for 9.15 pm on the evening of 14 September for the election of the leader and deputy leader positions, announcing that he would contest the position of leader. Mr Turnbull won the ballot for the position of leader 54 to 44, and Julie Bishop won the deputy leader position over Kevin Andrews 70 to 30. Ms Bishop has held the position of deputy leader of the federal Parliamentary Liberal Party since November 2007, serving with three opposition leaders and two prime ministers.

Australia has had four prime ministers (Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and Turnbull) and four opposition leaders (Nelson, Turnbull, Abbott and Shorten) since the 2007 election.

Mr Abbott became leader of the federal Parliamentary Liberal Party on 1 December 2009 and was sworn in as Prime Minister on 18 September 2013, serving as Prime Minister for one year and 361 days. Tony Abbott is the shortest-serving prime minister since William McMahon, although serving longer than nine other Prime Ministers (not including those with multiple terms of office whose aggregated length of service is greater than Mr Abbott’s term of office). The only Prime Minister who came to office following an election and served a shorter period in office than Tony Abbott was Liberal Joseph Cook in 1913, who served for one year 85 days.

Mr Abbott has never resided at the Lodge, which is under renovation, staying instead at the Australian Federal Police college while in Canberra. Other prime ministers not residing at the Lodge include James Scullin, who refused to live at the Lodge and resided at the Hotel Canberra during parliamentary sittings, and Ben Chifley, who stayed primarily at the Hotel Kurrajong.

The Turnbull/Abbott leadership challenge is the sixth Liberal Party leadership challenge or spill since the Howard Government was defeated at the 2007 election:


Challenge or spill


29 November 2007

Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull

Nelson 45: Turnbull 42

16 September 2008

Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull

Turnbull 45: Nelson 41

25 November 2009

Malcolm Turnbull: spill motion moved by Wilson Tuckey and Denis Jensen

Spill motion defeated 48: 35

1 December 2009

Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott

Abbott 42: Turnbull 41

9 February 2015

Abbott: spill motion moved by Luke Simpkins and Don Randall

Spill motion defeated 61: 39


Mr Turnbull, member for the New South Wales seat of Wentworth, entered federal Parliament at the 2004 election following a successful career as barrister and solicitor and businessman. In early 2006 he was appointed Parliamentary Secretary for Water and became Minister for the Environment a year later.

Following the defeat of the Howard Government at the 2007 election, Malcolm Turnbull lost a leadership challenge to Brendan Nelson, but a year later won another leadership ballot. He was then leader of the Opposition for around 14 months until he lost a 2009 leadership ballot to Tony Abbott by one vote. Mr Turnbull was Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband for three years from September 2010 to September 2013. When the Abbott Coalition Government won office at the 2013 election Mr Turnbull was appointed Minister for Communications.

A 2012 Library Flagpost discusses Prime Ministers and ALP leadership challenges. A separate 2013 Library publication outlines the context in which former prime ministers left Parliament.



Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

Parliamentary Library Logo showing Information Analysis & Advice

Filter by



Tag cloud