Why Malcolm Turnbull's leadership is on shaky ground

By Malcolm Farr analysis

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull would face a number of challenges should he re-gain government. Photo / AP
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull would face a number of challenges should he re-gain government. Photo / AP

Malcolm Turnbull is battling to save his leadership as the gutted Australian Government waits to see if it has been returned.

The quest for political stability has been spectacularly denied by the election, which has magnified uncertainty possibly for years to come.

Deputy Leader of the Opposition Tanya Plibersek was quick to question Turnbull's future, with his authority in tatters.

"I think the real question tonight is for Malcolm Turnbull - can he remain leader with the loss of so many seats? That's the real question for tonight," she told the Nine Network.

However Senator Eric Abetz, who is a staunch supporter of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, said he assumed Turnbull would have the backing to continue in the top job.

The veteran Tasmanian politician, who lost his Cabinet spot and role as leader of the government in the Upper House when the party switched from Abbott to Turnbull, said he was confident in the elected parliamentary leader.

"People will have their own idea as to whether or not Mr Abbott or Mr Turnbull is a better campaigner - the simple fact is we will never know and that has passed us by and what we have are the results that were delivered," Abetz told reporters in Hobart.

Turnbull emerged from his Point Piper home shortly before midday. He smiled at the waiting media pack but remained tight-lipped as he jumped in a car and headed to the Liberal party office at Bligh St in the city.

He has reportedly spent the morning canvassing support from Independent MPs including Andrew Wilkie, returning in Denison, and Cathy McGowan, returning in the Victorian regional seat of Indi.

At a press conference, Turnbull said he was "quietly confident that a majority Coalition Government will be returned at this election when the counting is completed".

"The expectation is on all of us, especially me as Prime Minister, to get on with the job," he said.

"My absolute focus as Prime Minister is on delivering for Australian the certainty, the stability, the leadership that they need and they expect form their Government and their parliament".

The worst prospect for voters now is a trio of political horrors: a hung parliament, an unworkable Senate, and the dumping of another prime minister.

If he does limp back to power, Turnbull faces the prospect of having to put Abbott into his ministry if he wants to repel an internal Liberal rebellion.

And a wounded Turnbull Administration would also have to deal with outspoken cross bench members, including up to three senators from the Nick Xenophon team - broadcaster Derryn Hinch, Pauline Hanson and another Hanson candidate.

The uncertainty will continue until Tuesday at least and might not be resolved until one million postal votes are opened.

Counting from Saturday's election has been suspended for two days with neither the Coalition nor Labor knowing whether the two-month campaign has produced a majority government.

Labor has taken at least 12 extra seats and while another dozen are in doubt it is unlikely it will get enough to govern.

But triumphant Labor leader Bill Shorten, his own leadership cemented by his campaign performance, has warned Turnbull his mandate has been smashed and the Opposition will harass on all fronts.

Shorten pointed to one certainty: "One thing is for sure: The Labor Party is back."

The ALP has a remarkable swag of seats: Patterson, Macarthur, Macquarie, Lindsay, Eden-Monaro, Dobell in NSW; Braddon, Bass, Lyons in Tasmania; Solomon in the Northern Territory; Herbert, Longman in Queensland; the new seat of Burt in Western Australia.

The pause in counting is expected to be filled by growing Liberal criticism of Turnbull, particularly from backers of Abbott.

The man should resign
Andrew Bolt

Turnbull replaced Abbott with a promise of a better chance at the election, and has not delivered.

Two right-wing Liberal activists and Abbott backers in the media, broadcaster Alan Jones and News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt, condemned Turnbull.

"The man should resign," said Bolt on Sky News.

Jones on the Seven network sneered at "bed-wetters in the Liberal Party" who had been part of the Abbott ouster, provoking one of those Liberals, Senate James McGrath, to call Jones a "grub".

Turnbull's precarious position was highlighted by his late appearance with wellwishers in Sydney. He did not turn up at Liberal drinks until 12.30am local time, and had little to offer this diminished crowed of supporters who had waited hours for him.

The cross bench MPs will be critical should no one be able to claim a majority. They are expected to be incumbent independents Bob Katter, Andrew Wilkie, Cathy McGowan, and newcomer Rebekha Sharkie of the Nick Xenophon team.

Wilkie has already said he would not negotiate a pact and would consider each issue on its merits.

- news.com.au

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