Canberra, Australia (AP) — Australia’s former prime minister said on Monday he will resign from Parliament this week in a move that could cost the unpopular conservative government its single-seat majority.
Malcolm Turnbull told supporters that he will resign from Parliament on Friday, a week after he was forced from office by lawmakers in his conservative Liberal Party because he had lost their support.
That could set the stage for an Oct. 6 by-election. Prime Minister Scott Morrison could also call general elections, although he has said he plans to hold polls close to when an election is due in May.
Morrison visited the drought-stricken Outback on Monday in a demonstration that he has turned his focus away from his government’s internal drama to the problems of the nation.
Morrison selected drought assistance as a top priority along with national security and economic growth when he was chosen by Liberal Party lawmakers on Friday to replace Turnbull. Turnbull became the fourth prime minister to be dumped by his or her own party since 2010 in response to poor opinion polling.
Morrison flew to rural western Queensland state, where crops are failing and ranchers are struggling to feed sheep and cattle after six years of drought. He has not yet announced any new initiatives to help farmers.
Morrison is working to heal a bitter rift between conservative and moderate lawmakers in his conservative government to present a united front to voter. The hard-right lawmaker who led the charge against Turnbull but lost the leadership ballot to Morrison was sworn in as home affairs minister Monday. Peter Dutton had quit that post so he could publicly challenge Turnbull.
Tony Abbott, a key Dutton ally who was prime minister before Turnbull replaced him in a similar Liberal Party revolt in 2015, declared on Monday that the government would not turn against Morrison.
“The era of the political assassin is over and thank God for that,” Abbott told Sydney Radio 2GB.
Morrison welcomed Abbott’s comments.
“It’s been a pretty tumultuous time and I think Australians would welcome the fact that that period of time is over and it should be over,” Morrison told reporters in the town of Quilpie. “The age of bitterness has come to a close and the age of working together and focusing on the future has come.”
Abbott’s sister, Christine Forster, said on Monday she wanted to be the Liberal Party candidate in Turnbull’s Sydney electorate which is the wealthiest in Australia. Abbott supported his sister, who is a lesbian and clashed with her former seminarian brother in last’s year’s debate about whether Australia should legalize gay marriage. Parliament legalized same-sex marriage and Abbott attended his sister’s wedding in February.
Opinion polling by respected Newspoll published on Monday found that government popular support has crashed to its lowest level in a decade due to the infighting.
The poll found that only 33 percent of respondents intended to vote for the government, a tie with a poll in 2008 when the Liberal Party was in opposition a year after being voted out of power.
The poll was based on a survey of 1,783 voters nationwide from Friday when the leadership changed until Sunday. It had a 2.3 percentage point margin of error.
Turnbull offered Abbott no senior role in his government after ousting him.
Morrison, whom Turnbull described as a loyal treasurer, excluded Abbott from his first Cabinet but has offered him a newly created role of special envoy for indigenous affairs. Abbott has yet to decide whether he will accept it.