Turnbull is still tops but Abbott will stay leader

Malcolm Turnbull: won't replace Tony Abbott. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Malcolm Turnbull: won't replace Tony Abbott. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Malcolm Turnbull has no prospect of leading the Liberal Party to the election, despite a recent surge in media speculation and public interest.

The reason is a simple one: there is no venue for a party meeting to even consider a change of leaders.

The Rudd government has decided that it will call an election before the date that Parliament was due to return, according to authoritative sources.

In the absence of the scheduled return on August 20, the parliamentary Liberal Party will not be gathered in one place before polling day.

Tony Abbott is assured to remain leader although he is not the people's choice, according to polling.

In an Essential Media poll published on Monday, Mr Turnbull was nominated as preferred Liberal leader by 37 per cent to Tony Abbott's 17 per cent.

Talkback radio and the media alike have been ''salivating over the notion of a Turnbull v Rudd election'', says John Chalmers, of iSentia, formerly known as Media Monitors. But Mr Turnbull's earliest realistic prospect of being considered for the leadership would be in the event that Mr Abbott loses.

Mr Rudd is expected to call an election for September and two dates are in play - the 7th and 21st.

If he chooses September 21 Mr Rudd need not call the election until August 19, the day before Parliament's scheduled return.

To go beyond this date Mr Rudd would either have to face the Parliament again or cancel the planned sitting, which is the government's prerogative.

The government has no incentive to allow Parliament to return, for three reasons. First, it would put Mr Rudd back amid the sort of angry exchanges he has condemned as the ''old politics of negativity''.

Second, it would revive memories of the bitter Labor leadership schism as it returned to public view the vanquished former prime minister Julia Gillard and her loyalists on the back bench.

Third, it would allow the opposition to demand that Mr Rudd put his carbon legislation to the Parliament for a vote.

The government would prefer to avoid this because it would be likely to lose in the Senate. Mr Rudd could cancel the planned sitting of Parliament but the opposition would be sure to accuse the government of running from scrutiny.

Mr Chalmers said there had been a surge of interest in Mr Turnbull: ''In the past week Mr Turnbull was the eleventh most mentioned politician across the mainstream mediums of print, TV, radio and online news but the fourth most mentioned on Twitter and talkback radio, where in both cases he was only mentioned less than Mr Rudd, Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott.''

This story Turnbull is still tops but Abbott will stay leader first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.