Turnbull needs to walk fine line as new PM

MALCOLM Turnbull's reign as Prime Minister will turn on reshaping Tony Abbott's agenda in public while placating disgruntled conservative forces inside the Coalition.

While maintaining face that he did not "white-ant" Mr Abbott, as Kevin Rudd had done during Julia Gillard's tenure, Mr Turnbull claimed victory in a late-night spill of the party's leadership on Monday.

With Australian voters now experiencing their fifth Prime Minister in as many years, Mr Turnbull was just the latest in what was becoming an "unhealthy trend" in politics, University of Queensland senior lecturer Dr Paul Williams said Tuesday.

Dr Williams said the act of politicians usurping their chosen leader in their first term of government was "becoming a far too frequent occurrence", which continues to threaten the public's confidence in democracy.

"Really, the party gave a lot of notice to (Mr) Abbott, but he still held a hard line on a raft of social policy issues, including marriage equality," Dr Williams said.

"If you've got a leader who's willing to change, it does not necessarily come to a challenge, but if the leader is intractable and won't change, then (a spill) is what you see."

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Dr Williams said the latest in the string of first-term leadership spills was different to the various Rudd and Gillard challenges, as "Tony Abbott was given a lot more chances" than either former Labor leader was.

But he said Mr Turnbull could yet become a "once in a generation successful Prime Minister".

"It really does turn on whether he could become another (Robert) Menzies - crossing the class divide, appealing to urban and rural voters, workers and business, and bring a new level of stability," Dr Williams said.

Mr Turnbull has promised "a new style of leadership", citing Menzies, "small L liberalism" and instilling greater weight in traditional Cabinet processes which have, perhaps, not been seen since John Howard's tenure.

His leadership will depend not only on placating conservative MPs inside the Liberal party, but ensuring the largely socially conservative Nationals have little to fear from a republican supporter of marriage equality.

Dr Williams said the biggest hurdle Mr Turnbull now faced was "the most divided Liberal Party in 30 years", amid the ever-present threat of Mr Abbott mounting a renewed challenge to his position, despite Mr Abbott's pledge not to.

"The reality is Malcolm is not the panacea to the Liberals' problems - he now has to reinvent the party from the ground up, he needs to re-think two budgets and Abbott's overarching social policy," he said.

"Ultimately, his fate will hinge on what the Cabinet he appoints looks like and how quickly he moves on social policy.

"But I think it's more than likely the party is going to suffer some very public fall-outs, and there will be some leaking, recriminations and a very unhappy party for some time."

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