Party leadership changes and challenges: a quick guide

14 April 2020

PDF version [385KB]

Cathy Madden
Politics and Public Administration


Since 2007 there has been a series of changes in the leadership of Australia’s largest political parties. For a party in government, this results in a change to the prime ministership, and since the November 2007 election Australia has had six prime ministers—Kevin Rudd (twice), Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison (see Appendix A)—along with five Opposition leaders (Brendan Nelson, Turnbull, Abbott, Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese).

This quick guide outlines the current rules relating to the election of leaders for the four largest federal parliamentary parties: the Liberal Party (LIB), the Nationals (NATS), the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Australian Greens (AG). Appendices provide prime ministerial changes since 2007 together with a list of the changes and challenges to leaders of the Liberal Party, the Nationals, and the ALP since the 1940s.

Leadership selection models

Until recently, federal Members of Parliament have retained the exclusive right to elect their party leaders, and Australian political parties have been slow to adopt more democratic models of electing their leadership. It is largely the parliamentary party room of the major parties that hold the key to the position (and tenure) of Australian prime ministers. Until 2013, when the ALP adopted new rules relating to the election of its leader, only the Australian Democrats—no longer a party represented in the federal parliament—have included members in the election of the party leader.[1]

A number of overseas political parties have moved to democratise party processes and now include party members in the election of party leaders. In the United Kingdom, for example, the two major political parties have given formal voting rights to their individual members in leadership elections—since 1998 for the Conservative Party and 1981 for the Labour Party.

Methods of leadership change

The most public, and arguably the most controversial, way of changing leaders is by a leadership spill. A number of leadership spills have occurred in recent times resulting in a change to the prime ministership. Recent examples include the 2018 removal of Malcolm Turnbull and the promotion of Scott Morrison to leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister, and in 2013 Kevin Rudd replacing Julia Gillard as the Labor prime minister. The first of these over the last decade was the 2010 replacement of Kevin Rudd by Julia Gillard as leader of the ALP. Other less public changes have occurred as well, most regularly following an election defeat. Appendix B includes tables which outline the leadership changes, through spills or due to other factors, for the Liberal Party, the ALP and NATS.

Leadership spills

A leadership spill (or simply spill) is a declaration that the leadership of a parliamentary party (also known as a caucus) is vacant and open for re-election.[2] A spill may involve all leadership positions (leader and deputy leader in both houses), or just the leader. If there are one or more challengers a ballot or series of ballots may be held. Factors that can contribute to a spill include bad polling or disagreement about the direction of a party, or a spill may be called by a leader to quell grumblings about a party’s leadership.

A spill will result in a change to the leadership of a parliamentary party if:

  • a leader decides not to participate in a contest for the leadership or
  • a leader participates in, but does not win, a leadership contest.

Party rules relating to the election of a leader of federal parties (normally the leader of the federal parliamentary party) are not transparent. While reference may be made to the election of the leader of a federal parliamentary party in the Constitution/Rules of the party, the details of the process are not readily apparent. Details of, and commentary on, these processes are mainly provided though the media.

As a means of providing greater stability in the leadership of the two major parties, ALP and LIB party leaders have acted made the rules more rigorous by placing constraints on when and how a leadership ballot can occur.

Other mechanisms of leadership change

Apart from leadership spills, change to the leadership of a political party can take place in a number of ways, including:

  • resignation of a leader for personal reasons—for example, Mark Latham (ALP) in 2005
  • resignation of a leader following appointment to another position—for example, Bert Evatt (ALP) in 1960
  • retirement of a leader—for example, Robert Menzies (LIB) in 1966
  • resignation of a leader following an election defeat of the party—for example, Malcolm Fraser (LIB) in 1983
  • a leader losing their seat at an election—for example, John Howard (LIB) in 2007 and
  • a leader dying in office—for example, John Curtin (ALP) in July 1945.
  • See Appendix B for a summary of leadership changes in the ALP, the Liberal Party and the Nationals since the 1940s resulting from the causes listed above or a spill.

Australian Labor Party

On 8 July 2013, prime minister Kevin Rudd announced proposed changes to the ALP leadership rules. The changes included votes by the party membership and votes by the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party (FPLP), weighted at 50 per cent each, and processes for when and how a leader can be challenged and the amount of Caucus support needed to mount a challenge to the leader. A special meeting of the Caucus on 22 July 2013 endorsed the proposals, but agreed that a petition challenging the leader should require 60 per cent Caucus support rather than the 75 per cent proposed by Rudd. It was also agreed that, when the ALP does not form the government the period between the federal election and the election of its leader, the deputy leader or the highest ranked House of Representatives member would act as leader. Chris Bowen was nominated interim leader in 2013 and Bill Shorten remained as interim leader in 2019 until the election of Mr Albanese in late May 2019.

Mr Rudd (Griffith, QLD) stood down from the leadership following defeat at the 7 July 2013 election. Both Mr Albanese (Grayndler, NSW) and Mr Shorten (Maribyrnong, Vic.) stood for the position of leader. Under the ALP’s new rules, there were ballots by rank and file party members and by the parliamentary caucus. Mr Albanese won the popular vote but Mr Shorten won the weighted Caucus vote, so became leader.

The rule that the prime minister can only be removed if 75 per cent of MPs agree to force a ballot (or 60 per cent of caucus for an opposition leader) is a caucus-approved rule and is not included in the 2018 National Platform.

The 2018 ALP National Platform sets out the current rules for electing a party leader:

Federal Parliamentary Leader

27 (a) This clause applies when the rules of the FPLP require the election of the Leader of the FPLP (in this clause, “the Leader”) to include a ballot of Party members other than members of the FPLP.

(b) The Leader must be elected by:

(i) a ballot of eligible Party members, and

(ii) a ballot of the members of the FPLP, where the results of each ballot are given equal weighting and added together.

(c) In paragraph (b)(i), “eligible Party member”:

(i) means a financial Party member at the time nominations open who has not subsequently resigned or been expelled; but

(ii) does not include members of the FPLP.

(d) The National Executive must make rules for the conduct of the election, including the ballot under paragraph (b)(i), in consultation with the FPLP.

(e) The FPLP must make rules for the conduct of the election, including the ballot under paragraph (b)(ii), in consultation with the National Executive.

Following the defeat of the ALP at the 18 May 2019 election Bill Shorten announced he was standing down as leader. The process for electing a new leader was initiated by the ALP National Executive. Nominations for the position of leader opened on 23 May 2019 and closed on 27  May 2019. A candidate requires 20 per cent support of the caucus to nominate. If there is only one nomination, no ballot will occur. If there were two or more nominations, a ballot of both the parliamentary party and grassroots members was due to occur by postal vote from 31 May to 27 June 2019.

On 19 May Anthony Albanese nominated for the position of leader. Other contenders, Tanya Plibersek (Sydney, NSW), Chris Bowen (McMahon, NSW) and Jim Chalmers (Rankin, QLD) decided not to contest the position or withdrew their candidacy. The ALP caucus met on 30 May 2019, and Mr Albanese was elected unopposed.

Australian Greens

The Charter and Constitution of the Australian Greens refers to the federal parliamentary leader but provides no detail of how the person is elected. Under the current AG rules, only members of the federal parliamentary party elect the party leader. The Greens hold a leadership ballot after each federal election.

An article in the Green Magazine notes that the Party Room Rules contain the formal bylaws that govern the processes and procedures of the Party Room meetings. They are similar to many Greens meeting rules, and also contain extra rules around electing the positions of leader, deputy, whip and Party Room chair. With only two leadership transitions in its history, the Greens Party Room has not had to put these rules into practice often.

In a farewell address to the National Press Club on 7 May 2015, former leader Senator Christine Milne (Tas.) said that the issue of grassroots members having a role in electing the leader had been considered as part of a constitutional review, but that the 2014 Greens National Conference had ‘determined that the process we have be the process into the future’. Milne referred to the fate of the (now deregistered) Australian Democrats Party, stating that ‘[y]ou only have to look back at the history of the Democrats to see how the direct election of leaders can go awry’. Senator Richard di Natale (Vic.) was elected leader on 6 May 2015.

Following the 2019 election the AG party room met on 12 June 2019; following the spill of the leadership positions, the leader and other office holders were all returned without challenge. A survey of party members indicated that 70 per cent did not support the current model for electing the party leader. Senator di Natale has indicated that he supports the continuation of the conversation within the party over the leadership model.

On 3 February 2020 Senator di Natale announced his resignation as leader of the AG and that he would also leave the Senate. He announced a spill of both the leader and deputy leader positions. The AG party room met on Tuesday 4 February 2020 to elect a new leadership team. The Greens’ only lower House representative, Adam Bandt (Melbourne, Vic.) was elected leader unopposed. Senator Larissa Waters (QLD) was re-elected co-deputy and Greens leader in the Senate, joined by Senator Nick McKim (Tas.) as the other co-deputy leader and deputy leader in the Senate.

Liberal Party

The Liberal Party Federal Constitution provides:

52. The Parliamentary Party shall:-

(a) appoint its Leader, who shall thereupon become the Parliamentary Leader of the Organisation

On 24 August 2018 former treasurer Scott Morrison (Cook, NSW) was sworn in as Australia’s 30th prime minister by Governor-General Peter Cosgrove. This followed a turbulent week within the LIB party room. On 21 August 2018 a leadership spill occurred—prime minister Turnbull (Wentworth, NSW) won a leadership ballot against Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton (Dickson, QLD) 45 to 38 votes. Following further instability within the party another leadership spill was called by the prime minister for 24 August 2018. When the spill motion was successful, Mr Turnbull stood down as leader; in the subsequent ballot Mr Morrison defeated Mr Dutton 45 to 40 votes.

In December 2018 Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a change to the rules for election of the leader of the Liberal Party:

if an elected Liberal Party leader goes to the election, wins that election and becomes prime minister, they will remain prime minister for the full parliamentary term.

They will not be able to be removed from office. That could only happen — as a safeguard — by meeting the very high bar of a special majority two-thirds vote.

Mr Morrison did not face a leadership spill following the Coalition Government’s victory at the 2019 federal election.

The Nationals

The federal party room elects its office bearers; no detail is provided as to the process used.

The 2017 National Party of Australia Federal Constitution provides:

Officers of the Federal Parliamentary Nationals

26.1 Officers of the Federal Parliamentary Nationals shall be the:

(a) Federal Leader

(b) Deputy Federal Leader ….

26.2 The officers of the Federal Parliamentary Nationals shall be elected by that Party in such manner as it shall think fit.

On 23 February 2018 the NATS leader, Barnaby Joyce (New England, NSW), resigned following weeks of controversy over his personal life. In the subsequent party room meeting Michael McCormack (Riverina, NSW) was elected as leader unopposed. Following the 2019 election the NATS party room met on 23 May 2019; Michael McCormack was returned as the leader.

Following the resignation of minister and deputy leader Senator Bridget McKenzie (Vic.) on 2 February 2020 over breaches of the Statement of Ministerial Standards, a party room meeting was called for 4 February 2020 to elect a new deputy. Senator McKenzie’s resignation led to calls for a spill of all leadership positions, with Barnaby Joyce the main challenger for the position of leader. Mr McCormack won the consequent leadership spill with David Littleproud (Maranoa, QLD) elected as deputy leader (voting numbers were not disclosed).

Selected overseas countries

United Kingdom

Labour Party

In 1981 UK Labour adopted a three-way electoral college model consisting of members of the parliamentary party, affiliated members (for example, trade unions) and Labour Party members. The rules were amended in 1993 and again in 2014. The rules governing the process are set out in the Labour Party Rule Book (chapter 4, clause 11). In 2010, Ed Miliband won the leadership contest with a majority of union votes but not a majority of the votes of MPs or party members. The Guardian newspaper observed before the vote that ‘Labour is lucky, save in the 1981 deputy leadership contest, that it has never elected a leader or deputy in the modern era against the majority wishes of ordinary party members’.

The new process for selecting the party leader (following the 2014 changes) was used for the first time following the resignation of Ed Miliband in May 2015, after the party's general election defeat. Overall, 422,664 voted in the Labour leadership election, comprising 245,520 members, 105,598 registered supporters and 71,546 trade union affiliates. Four contenders nominated, with Jeremy Corbyn elected leader in the first round of voting with 251,417 votes (59.5 per cent of the total vote). Following a vote of no confidence in Mr Corbyn in June 2016, another leadership ballot occurred. The overall number of votes increased to 506,438. Mr Corbyn was re-elected as leader of the Labour Party; he won 313,209 votes (61.8 per cent of the vote), compared to Owen Smith’s 193,229.

The election of Labour Party leaders is described in detail in a 2016 paper published by the House of Commons Library.

Following the December 2019 general election Mr Corbyn announced he would be standing down as leader of the Labour Party following a period of reflection and a leadership ballot process. Nominations for leader/deputy leader closed on 14 February 2020, and the ballot closed 2 April with the announcement of the result to be made on 4 April 2020. A 2020 House of Commons paper describes the rules and process for the leadership contest. The results of the leadership contest were:

  • Sir Keir Starmer—275,780 votes (56.2 per cent), elected leader
  • Rebecca Long-Bailey—135,218 votes (27.6 per cent) and
  • Lisa Nandy—79,597 votes (16.2 per cent).

The leadership vote drew 490,731 voters (62.58 per cent) out of a total eligible 784,151 voters. Angela Rayner was elected deputy leader following a ballot for the position.

Conservative Party

The current rules for electing the leader of the Conservative Party were introduced in 1998 and are set out in the Constitution of the Conservative Party (Part 111 and Schedule 2). The current system of electing the Leader of the Conservative Party consists of two stages:

  • Conservative Members of Parliament select two candidates through a ballot process to present to the membership of the whole party and
  • party members vote, on a ‘one member one vote’ basis, for their preferred candidate of the selected two.

A leadership contest can be triggered in two ways:

  • if 15 per cent of Conservative MPs write to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee (formally known as the Conservative Private Members’ Committee) saying they no longer have confidence in the leader of the Conservative Party, or
  • if the current leader resigns.

A leader losing the confidence of the parliamentary party is not allowed to participate in the resulting leadership election.

If re-elected, the leader is immune from challenge for a year.

Theresa May was confirmed as leader of the Conservative Party on 13 July 2016 after the most recent leadership contest. There were initially five candidates, but after two ballots of Conservative MPs all but Theresa May had been eliminated or withdrawn. Mrs May was then confirmed as party leader without the need for a ballot of party members. On 12 December 2018, Theresa May withstood a vote of no confidence, winning 200 votes to 117.

On 24 May 2019 Mrs May announced she would resign the leadership on 7 June 2019. Under the rules a contender requires the support of eight MPs to nominate as a candidate for the leadership ballot. At the close of nominations on 10 June 2019, there were 10 candidates. Under the new rules, candidates will need to win the votes of at least 17 MPs in the first ballot and 33 MPs in the second to proceed. Subsequent ballots then occur until only two candidates remain. Once two candidates have been selected by MPs, the Conservative Party's members will vote to choose the winner. After five rounds of voting by Conservative MPs, the two final candidates were Boris Johnson, former Foreign Secretary and ex-Mayor of London and Jeremy Hunt, the current Foreign Secretary. On 23 July 2019 the new leader was announced. Mr Johnson won 66 per cent of the votes–92,153, to Hunt’s 46,656. Turnout was 87.4 per cent among the Conservative Party’s 159,320 eligible members. On 24 July 2019, following Mrs May’s resignation, Mr Johnson visited Buckingham Palace and was asked to form a government.

A 2019 House of Commons Library briefing paper provides further detail of the process.


In Canada, most of the major parties have also adopted a more democratic election process involving members.

Liberal Party

The Canadian Liberals present one of the more marked examples of the shift towards supporters’ networks. In May 2016 the Liberal Party voted at its conference to adopt a new constitution to ensure a more open and accessible party. Changes included anyone willing to register with the party (for free) being able to participate in policy development and candidate and leadership selection. The party, currently in government in Canada under the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, advertises itself not as a party but as an open movement. The Constitution of the Liberal Party of Canada (Clause 46) states:

The Leadership Vote is a direct vote of all Registered Liberals who have a right to vote on the Leadership Vote weighted equally for each electoral district in Canada and counted in accordance with this Section.

b. Every Registered Liberal who ordinarily resides in Canada has the right to vote on the Leadership Vote, if that Registered Liberal has:

i. been a Registered Liberal for the 41 days immediately preceding the day of the Leadership Vote; and,

ii. complied with the registration procedures established by the National Board or by the Leadership Vote Committee.

Conservative Party

The Conservative Party of Canada Constitution (part 10) outlines the process for the election of the leader, including direct participation of the party membership:

10.10 The election of the Leader shall be by way of a direct vote of members in every electoral district, as follows.

10.10.1 Each member of the Party will have one vote.

10.10.2 Each electoral district will be allocated 100 points.

10.10.3 Leadership candidates will be assigned a point total based on their percentage of the vote in each electoral district.

10.10.4 To win the leadership, a candidate must obtain a majority of points from across the country.

10.10.5 Voting will be by preferential vote (single transferable ballot).

The party retains a registration fee for membership. The most recent leadership election was held on 27 May 2017 following a long process (former leader and prime minister Stephen Harper had resigned as party leader on 19 October 2015 and as prime minister on 4 November 2015 following the defeat of the Conservative Party at the 2015 general election). Nominations for the candidates did not close until 31 December 2016, and 14 candidates nominated. After twelve rounds of voting by eligible party members two candidates were selected. The final thirteenth round was between candidates Andrew Scheer and Maxime Bernier, with Scheer successful.

New Zealand

Labour Party

In November 2012 the New Zealand Labour Party adopted a model, much like that used by UK Labour, giving caucus 40 per cent of the vote, party members 40 per cent and affiliated unions 20 per cent.

The New Zealand Labour Party Constitution (part 9) sets out the arrangements for electing the party leader through votes cast in an electoral college. The leader must be a Member of Parliament. No later than three months after an election there has to be a caucus vote to endorse the leader; the vote has to be 60 per cent plus one for endorsement. An election for the position of leader is triggered if 50 per cent plus one of the caucus passes a motion not endorsing the leader.


The election of the Leader of the Labour Party must be determined by the votes cast in an electoral college composed of the following:

(a) Parliamentary Labour Party Caucus (40% of the total vote):

(b) Party members (40% of the total vote):

(c) Affiliate Party members (20% of the total vote).


Voting must be preferential and concurrent in all cases

Jacinda Ardern became leader of the Labour Party on 1 August 2017 seven weeks before the national election, following the resignation of Andrew Little as leader after a historic low poll result for the party. As the only officially nominated candidate, Ms Ardern was unanimously confirmed as the new leader at a caucus meeting the same day.

National Party

The Constitution and Rules of the New Zealand National Party (paragraph 82) provides little detail on the process of appointing a leader. The parliamentary section (party members elected to the Parliament) appoints the party leader, and the National Party Board has to approve the chosen leader. The Constitution states that the parliamentary section may confirm or change its leader at any time between general elections. On 13 February 2018 Bill English announced he would be standing down as leader of the National Party, effective 27 February. Five candidates nominated; one later withdrew. After a secret caucus ballot, Simon Bridges was announced as the new leader.

Appendix A

Table 1: prime ministerial changes since 2007

Prime minister


Period of service

Kevin Rudd


3 Dec 2007—24 June 2010

Julia Gillard


24 June 2010—27 June 2013

Kevin Rudd


27 June 2013—18 Sept 2013

Tony Abbott


18 Sept 2013—15 Sept 2015

Malcolm Turnbull


15 Sept 2015—24 Aug 2018

Scott Morrison*


24 Aug 2018—

*At the 18 May 2019 general election Mr Morrison became the elected prime minister.

Appendix B

The following tables list the leaders of the Liberal Party, National Party and the Australian Labor Party since 1941, together with how and when they became leader. Included are changes and challenges resulting from the death of a leader, voluntary resignation, standing down after an election defeat and leadership spill motions and ballots.

Post-election ballots where the incumbent leader continued as leader are not included. In many cases actual ballot figures are not available as the ballot papers were destroyed after the vote.

Table 2: federal Liberal Party leadership changes and challenges, 1941–2018

Date of change / challenge Government/Opposition Leader Challenger/s Method of change Result
28 August 1941 Government Robert Menzies (leader of United Australia Party (UAP))   Menzies resigns as prime minister, 29 Aug 1941. Deputy prime minister Arthur Fadden (CP) becomes prime minister.
9 October 1941 Opposition R Menzies William (Billy) Hughes Menzies resigns as leader of the UAP. Hughes becomes leader.
22 September 1943 Opposition B Hughes R Menzies Spill motion. Menzies elected leader of UAP. Liberal Party formed in 1944.
January 1966 Government     Menzies retires 26 Jan 1966. Harold Holt becomes prime minister (elected leader unopposed).
9 January 1968 Government   Senator J Gorton Paul Hasluck Leslie Bury Billy Snedden PM Holt disappears in the sea off Portsea on 17 Dec 1967. John McEwen (CP) acting prime minister. Gorton becomes prime minister. Bury and Snedden eliminated in the first round. In the second round Gorton wins 51:30.
7 November 1969 Government J Gorton William McMahon David Fairbairn Spill motion initiated by Fairbairn. The ballot papers were destroyed immediately after the meeting. Gorton remains prime minister (retains leadership reportedly with as few as 33 or 34 of the 65 votes).
10 March 1971 Government J Gorton W McMahon No-confidence motion moved in the party room. McMahon becomes prime minister. Vote tied 33:33; Gorton uses his casting vote against himself.
20 December 1972 Opposition   B Snedden Nigel Bowen James Killen John Gorton Malcolm Fraser Post-election ballot. McMahon resigns as leader on 5 December following the Government’s defeat at the 2 Dec 1972 election. Snedden elected leader. Killen, Fraser and Gorton eliminated in early rounds. Snedden wins over Bowen 30:29.
26 November 1974 Opposition B Snedden   A group of MPs confront Snedden to ask him to resign; he refuses, but calls a party room meeting for the next day. Tony Staley moves that the leadership be declared vacant, seconded by John Bourchier. The motion is defeated. Snedden retains leadership.
21 March 1975 Opposition B Snedden M Fraser Andrew Peacock calls on Snedden to hold a party room meeting to enable a confidence vote following calls by senior parliamentary Liberals for Snedden to resign. Fraser elected leader. A vote of confidence in Snedden fails; in a subsequent vote Fraser is elected leader 37:27.
8 April 1982 Government M Fraser A Peacock Leadership spill. Fraser wins 54:27.
11 March 1983 Opposition   A Peacock John Howard Post-election ballot. Fraser resigns as leader after the 5 March 1983 election defeat. Peacock elected leader 36:20.
5 September 1985 Opposition A Peacock J Howard James (Jim) Carlton Leadership spill. Vote for spill of leadership positions 35:34 (1 informal). Peacock stands down as leader. Howard elected leader. Howard 57: Carlton 6 (7 informal).
18 July 1987 Opposition J Howard A Peacock Post-election ballot following defeat at the 11 July 1987 election. Howard remains leader 41:28.
9 May 1989 Opposition J Howard A Peacock Leadership spill. Peacock elected leader 44:27.
3 April 1990 Opposition   John Hewson Peter Reith Alasdair Webster Post-election ballot. Peacock resigns as leader following loss at the 24 March 1990 election. Hewson elected as leader. Hewson 62; Reith 13; Webster 5.
23 March 1993 Opposition J Hewson J Howard Bruce Reid Post-election ballot following loss at 13 March 1993 election. Hewson remains leader. Hewson 47; Howard 30; Reid 1.
23 May 1994 Opposition J Hewson Alexander Downer Party room spill. Downer elected leader 43:36.
30 January 1995 Opposition   J Howard Downer resigns from leadership 26 Jan 1995. Howard elected leader unopposed.
29 November 2007 Opposition   Brendan Nelson Malcolm Turnbull Post-election ballot. Howard loses his seat at the 24 Nov 2007 election; deputy leader Peter Costello announces he will not contest the ballot. Tony Abbott rules himself out of the contest on 28 Nov 2007. Nelson elected leader 45:42.
16 September 2008 Opposition B Nelson M Turnbull Party room spill. Turnbull elected leader 45:41.
25 November 2009 Opposition M Turnbull   Party room spill motion moved by Wilson Tuckey and Dennis Jensen. Kevin Andrews announces he will stand if there is a leadership ballot. Spill motion defeated 48:35.
1 December 2009 Opposition M Turnbull Anthony (Tony) Abbott Joseph (Joe) Hockey Spill motion for the leadership position is successful 48:34. Abbott elected leader. First ballot Hockey 23; Turnbull 26; Abbott 35. In the run-off Abbott is elected leader 42:41.
9 February 2015 Government T Abbott   A party room spill motion is moved by Dennis Jensen and Don Randall and is defeated 39:61 (1 informal vote). There was no declared candidate should the leadership have become vacant.
14 September 2015 Government T Abbott M Turnbull Leadership spill. Turnbull is elected leader 54:44.
21 August 2018 Government M Turnbull Peter Dutton Turnbull instigates a leadership ballot at a special party room meeting. Turnbull is elected leader 48:35.
24 August 2018 Government M Turnbull Scott Morrison P Dutton Julie Bishop A spill motion for the leadership is carried 45:40. Turnbull resigns. J Bishop is eliminated in the first round. In the second ballot Morrison is elected leader 45:40.

Sources: G Starr, The Liberal Party of Australia: a documentary history, Drummond Heinemann, Richmond, Vic.,1980; various media articles.

Table 3: federal Labor Party leadership changes and challenges, 1941–2019

Date of change / challenge Government/Opposition Leader Challenger/s Method of change Result
October 1941 Government John Curtin   Curtin dies in office 5 July 1945. Francis Forde appointed leader pending a caucus leadership election.
12 July 1945 Government F Forde Ben Chifley Norman Makin Caucus leadership ballot. Chifley elected leader.
20 June 1951 Opposition     Chifley dies in office on 13 June 1951. Herbert (Bert) Evatt elected unopposed to succeed Chifley.
3 August 1954 Opposition B Evatt Thomas Burke Post-election leadership ballot. Evatt remains leader 68:20.
13 October 1954 Opposition B Evatt   George Cole moves a spill of all leadership positions. Evatt has the vote deferred for a week on a technicality.
20 October 1954 Opposition B Evatt   Cole proceeded with his motion Spill vote defeated 52:28.
18 April 1955 Opposition B Evatt Arthur Calwell T Burke Evatt resigns his position but recontests the leadership ballot. Evatt remains leader. Evatt 52; Calwell 22; Burke 5; informal 1.
13 February 1956 Opposition B Evatt Allan Fraser Post-10 Dec 1955 election ballot. Evatt elected leader (no ballot figures).
16 February 1959 Opposition B Evatt Edward (Eddie) Ward Post-22 Nov 1958 election ballot. Evatt remains leader 46:32.
7 March 1960 Opposition   A Calwell Reginald Pollard Evatt is appointed Chief Justice of the NSW Supreme Court on 1 Feb 1960. Calwell elected leader 42:30.
27 April 1966 Opposition A Calwell Gough Whitlam (deputy leader) Leadership challenge. Calwell remains leader 49:24.
8 February 1967 Opposition A Calwell G Whitlam James (Jim) Cairns Post-26 Nov 1966 election ballot. Calwell does not recontest the leadership. Whitlam elected leader.
30 April 1968 Opposition G Whitlam J Cairns Leadership spill. On 19 April 1968 Whitlam advises he will resign and recontest his position at a special caucus on 30  April  1968. Whitlam remains leader 38:32.
27 January 1976 Opposition G Whitlam Lionel Bowen Francis (Frank) Crean Post-13 Dec 1975 election ballot. Whitlam remains leader. Whitlam 36; Bowen 14; Crean 13.
31 May 1977 Opposition G Whitlam William (Bill) Hayden Mid-term ballot as a result of a Jan 1976 caucus ruling that all FPLP leadership positions would be vacated mid-1977. Whitlam remains leader 32:30.
22 December 1977 Opposition G Whitlam B Hayden L Bowen Post-10 Dec 1977 election ballot. Whitlam does not recontest the leadership. Hayden elected leader.
16 July 1982 Opposition B Hayden Robert (Bob) Hawke Leadership spill. Hayden remains leader 42:37.
3 February 1983 Opposition B Hayden   Hayden resigns. No ballot. Hawke elected leader unopposed.
June 1991 Government B Hawke Paul Keating (deputy leader) Leadership spill. Hawke remains leader 66:44.
16 December 1991 Government B Hawke P Keating Leadership spill. Keating elected leader 56:51.
19 March 1996 Opposition     Keating resigns following the loss of 2 March 1996 election. Kim Beazley elected unopposed (no challenges during this term).
22 November 2001 Opposition     Beazley resigns following defeat at the 10 Nov 2001 election. Simon Crean elected leader unopposed.
16 June 2003 Opposition S Crean K Beazley Leadership ballot. Crean remains leader 58:34.
2 December 2003 Opposition   Mark Latham K Beazley Crean resigns; Latham and Beazley stand for the leadership. Latham elected leader 47:45.
28 January 2005 Opposition     Latham resigns following the 9 Oct 2004 election loss. Contenders Rudd and Gillard choose not to contest a ballot. Beazley elected leader unopposed.
4 December 2006 Opposition K Beazley Kevin Rudd Leadership spill. Rudd elected leader 49:39.
24 June 2010 Government K Rudd Julia Gillard Leadership spill, but no vote as Rudd does not contest the ballot. Gillard elected leader unopposed.
27 February 2012 Government J Gillard K Rudd Leadership spill. Gillard elected leader 71:31.
21 March 2013 Government J Gillard   Spill motion is called for by S Crean; Gillard calls a snap leadership ballot. The likely challenger, Rudd, does not stand. Gillard remains leader (unopposed).
26 June 2013 Government J Gillard K Rudd Leadership spill. Rudd is elected leader 57:45.
13 October 2013 Opposition   Anthony Albanese William (Bill) Shorten Rudd stands down following defeat at the 7 July 2013 election. Albanese wins the party members vote; Shorten wins the weighted caucus vote. Shorten is elected leader with 52.02 per cent of both party and caucus votes (Albanese 47.98 per cent). Caucus votes: Shorten 55: Albanese 31.
30 May 2019 Opposition   A Albanese Shorten stands down following defeat at the 18 May 2019 election. Tanya Plibersek announces she will not contest the ballot; Chris Bowen withdraws from the contest, as does Jim Chalmers. Albanese elected leader unopposed.

Sources: R McMullin, The light on the hill: the Australian Labor Party 1891–1991, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1991; various media reports.

Table 4: federal National Party leadership changes and challenges, 1941–2020

Date of change / challenge Government/Opposition Leader Challenger/s Method of change Additional information
16 October 1940 Government Archie Cameron Earle Page Post-election ballot. Cameron and Page both received eight votes. The impasse was resolved by electing Arthur Fadden as deputy leader and appointing him as acting leader until another ballot could be conducted.
12 March 1941 Government A Fadden (acting)   Formal meeting. Fadden confirmed as leader.
26 March 1958 Government     Fadden stands down as leader but remains treasurer until next election. John McEwen elected as leader unopposed.
2 February 1971 Government   Douglas Anthony Ian Sinclair McEwen retires 1 Feb 1971. Anthony elected as leader.
17 January 1984 Opposition     Anthony resigns as leader. Sinclair chosen to replace Anthony.
23 July 1987 Opposition I Sinclair Ray Braithwaite Post-election ballot. Sinclair elected leader 20:6.
9 May 1989 Opposition I Sinclair Charles Blunt John Stone Leadership spill. C Blunt elected leader (no record of the votes).
10 April 1990 Opposition   I Sinclair Tim Fischer John Sharp Peter McGauran Garry Nehl Post-election leadership ballot. Blunt loses his seat at the 24 March 1990 election. Fischer is elected leader in the final count with a margin of four votes over Sharp.
23 March 1993 Opposition T Fischer I Sinclair Post-election ballot. Fischer remains leader.
20 July 1999 Government     Fischer stands down as party leader (and minister). John Anderson is elected leader unopposed.
23 June 2005 Government     Anderson stands down as leader. Mark Vaile unanimously elected as leader.
3 December 2007 Opposition     Post-election ballot. Vaile stands down as leader on 26 Nov 2007. P McGauran announces he will not stand for the leadership on 28 November. Warren Truss unanimously elected as leader.
12 February 2016 Government     Truss stands down as leader 11 Feb 2016 and retires 9 May 2016. Barnaby Joyce elected leader unopposed.
26 February 2018 Government B Joyce Michael McCormack David Gillespie Darren Chester David Littleproud Joyce resigns as leader effective 26 Feb 2018. Gillespie, Chester and Littleproud do not contest the ballot. McCormack elected leader unopposed.
4 February 2020 Government M McCormack Barnaby Joyce Following a spill of the leadership positions Mr Joyce was the only contender for leader. McCormack retained the leadership.

Sources: P Davey, Ninety not out: the Nationals 1920–2010, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney, 2010; various media articles.

Parliamentary Library publications

J Wilson, Prime Ministers and ALP leadership challenges, Flagpost, Parliamentary Library blog, 27 February 2012.

D McKeown, Electing the party leader, Flagpost, Parliamentary Library blog, 1 October 2013.

D McKeown, Electing the party leader - recent events in Australia and the UK, Flagpost, Parliamentary Library blog, 22 May 2015.

C Madden, Prime ministers and recent Liberal Party leadership challenges, Flagpost, Parliamentary Library blog, 15 September 2015.

J Wilson, R Lundie and D McKeown, Zippers: former prime ministers leaving parliament, Flagpost, Parliamentary Library blog, 14 November 2015.

[1] Australian Democrats, National Constitution and regulations, 26 February 1995, 11.5 All Parliamentary leaders must be elected by party ballot as soon as practicable after the each Federal election, other than a by-election or an election for one House of Parliament in which no candidates endorsed by the Australian Democrats are elected.

[2]  When a leader resigns due to an election loss (either the loss of their own seat, or the failure of their party to win government), or personal reasons, or dies in office, the subsequent leadership ballot is not termed a leadership spill.


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