Aussie Leader Faces Early Pressure After Scraping Narrow Win

  • Turnbull lacks strong mandate as coalition tensions simmer
  • Needs to keep disgruntled right-wing lawmakers in check

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will face parliament late this month with a wafer-thin majority after counting finished in the last lower-house seat after the election held in early July.

The opposition Labor party won the district of Herbert in Queensland state by 37 votes, the Australian Electoral Commission said in a Twitter post on Sunday. That gives Turnbull’s Liberal-National coalition 76 seats while Labor and smaller party or independent lawmakers have the rest in the 150-seat lower house.

Turnbull, 61, lacks a strong mandate to push through economic and fiscal reforms after an election marked by voter antipathy toward established parties that saw independent lawmakers make inroads in the crucial upper house where laws are approved. He’ll also need to enforce tight discipline within his coalition, especially disgruntled members of its right wing, at a time when fresh questions are emerging about his political judgment.

“Turnbull’s been wounded by this election and his authority has been undermined,” said John Warhurst, an emeritus professor of political science at the Australian National University in Canberra. “There will be many within his own party disappointed by the result and who may be more willing to be heard when they disagree with him on policy.”

Growth Drivers

After he seized the leadership by defeating the incumbent Tony Abbott in a ballot of Liberal lawmakers in September, Turnbull saw his political fortunes surge before quickly fading as he shelved major economic reforms, including an overhaul of the tax system.

When parliament resumes on Aug. 30, Turnbull’s government will be under pressure to find new engines to power the nation into a second straight quarter-century of growth. At the same time he needs to slash a budget deficit forecast to reach A$37.1 billion ($28.2 billion) next year after S&P Global Ratings last month lowered the outlook on Australia’s AAA credit rating to negative from stable.

While Turnbull requires all his lawmakers to help pass legislation in the lower house -- especially if he needs to supply a Speaker, who only votes when a tie-breaker is required -- the final make-up of the Senate is key.

Initial counting indicates the coalition will again rely on cross-benchers from a disparate group of minor parties, including independent Senators, to pass savings measures along with election pledges such as a 1.5 percentage point cut to the corporate tax rate.

One of Turnbull’s greatest challenges will be staring down disaffected right-wing lawmakers from his own coalition, many of whom supported the conservative Abbott.

Such lawmakers oppose Turnbull’s support for same-sex marriage and tougher action on climate change. Their influence was seen in the government’s decision last week to refuse to endorse a bid by former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to stand for secretary-general of the United Nations.

“The Rudd move showed the right wing won’t just wave through Turnbull’s decisions unchecked,” said Warhurst. “He may have to battle his own party over a lot of policy decisions so he can’t afford missteps.”

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