December 1991 Australian Labor Party leadership spill
A leadership spill of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), the party of government in the Parliament of Australia, was held on 19 December 1991, the second spill in a year. Backbencher and former Treasurer Paul Keating defeated Prime Minister Bob Hawke, who had led Labor for eight and a half years.
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Bob Hawke had been leader of the Labor Party since 3 February 1983, and Prime Minister since the 1983 election, with Labor winning a record four elections under his leadership. The unexpectedly close win at the 1990 election, coupled with the deepening economic recession, fuelled tensions within the government over economic policy, resulting in a breakdown of Hawke and Keating's previous "close cooperation". A re-energised Liberal opposition led by John Hewson, a qualified economist, gained ground in the opinion polls. Hawke had alienated key NSW Right powerbroker Graham Richardson in late 1990 by denying him the transport and communications portfolio, causing Richardson to support Keating as a leadership alternative, before bluntly telling Hawke he no longer had the support of the Right. He also reneged on an agreement with Paul Keating, known as the Kirribilli agreement, that he would hand over the leadership to him following the 1990 election. On 3 June 1991, Keating challenged for the leadership, but lost in a 66-44 vote and moved to the backbench.
By late 1991, Hawke's public support continued to decline as the Australian economy showed no signs of recovering from the recession and the opposition Liberals launched their Fightback! economic policy, without strong response from Hawke. The final straw was when Hawke sacked Keating's successor as Treasurer, John Kerin for his perceived communication weaknesses in early December. Keating supporters began a campaign to undermine Hawke's leadership.
The following table gives the ballot results:
Keating's second challenge was a success: he defeated Hawke by 56 votes to 51. Keating said Hawke had gone missing for four of his eight years as prime minister and had to be propped up by him.
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