Dutton Lost Today, But History Says He'll Win The Next One

We're perfectly following the script of other famous leadership coups.

Malcolm Turnbull has narrowly seen off a leadership challenge from Peter Dutton, but history says the danger isn't over yet, and the home affairs minister could mount a successful second challenge anytime.

After days of mounting pressure, Turnbull declared the Liberal leadership positions open on Tuesday morning. The PM won, narrowly, taking the win 48-35. It's undeniably a good result for Turnbull in the short-term, but the fact that more than a third of his own party voted against him does not bode well. There is even talk a second challenge could be mounted as soon as Thursday.

Losing Tuesday's ballot doesn't mean Dutton's leadership ambitions are totally thwarted. In fact, so far we are perfectly following the script of some of the most famous leadership coups in Australian history.  In many previous leadership spills, it has taken two or more attempts for the challenger to dislodge the sitting leader.

Such a situation occurred when Turnbull took the leadership from Abbott, with an 'empty chair' challenge in February 2015 returning Abbott but a September 2015 challenge seeing Turnbull take the top job.

It took two unsuccessful challenges for Kevin Rudd to re-take the prime ministership from Julia Gillard in February 2012 and March 2013, before Rudd finally won in June 2013.

Coincidentally, Turnbull as opposition leader in November 2009 faced a spill motion. He won that vote, as he did on Tuesday, 48-35. The very next day, Abbott publicly challenged Turnbull, and won.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reacts after addressing party members at the Coalition Campaign Launch in Sydney, Sunday, June 26, 2016.  (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Looking further back from the recent farcical period in politics, Paul Keating lost a leadership ballot to sitting PM Bob Hawke in June 1991 but then won a subsequent December 1991 challenge. Hawke himself lost an initial ballot to PM Bill Hayden in 1982, but came to the Labor leadership after Hayden then later resigned following renewed pressure.

Liberal PM Malcolm Fraser won his party's leadership in January 1975 after losing a spill to former leader Billy Snedden in November 1974.

So why does it take two? Well the wisdom is, nobody likes knifing a sitting Prime Minister. The Coalition made the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd revolving door years into a running joke, the shorthand for tumultuous and unstable and untrustworthy leadership from Labor.

Politicians will try to keep their leader for as long as possible, maybe sometimes even too long, meaning something pretty spectacular would have to go wrong -- such as the erratic and toxic leadership of Rudd 1.0 -- to lose a first-up leadership ballot.

The unsuccessful challenger steps into the background for a while, in an attempt to shore up the numbers they need. Meanwhile, the leader they challenged is publicly wounded, chased by damaging headlines and questions about their leadership. A challenge can be a true bodyblow to a leader's fortunes, and while their challenger inflates their numbers, the leader dips again in popularity.

This is what is tipped for Dutton, who was surprised by the snap leadership ballot, and did not have the time he probably needed to swell his support to the necessary numbers.

On the backbench, away from the glare of cameras and ministerial responsibilities, Dutton can whip up support in open defiance of Turnbull.

As Liberal politicians -- spooked by 38 Newspoll losses and considering a poor result in the super Saturday by-elections -- consider the further bad headlines about a wounded Turnbull, it's conceivable even more could flip and support a strongman, Queensland-based leader like Dutton to help save some furniture at the next election.