This is why Australia can't impeach a prime minister

Source: Getty Images North America

Australia has made headlines in the US with reports Trump called Morrison to ask for help with the Mueller investigation.

The Australian government has confirmed US President Donald Trump encouraged Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a phone call for help investigating the origins of the Mueller investigation into Russian election interference.

When asked about the matter, a spokesperson for the Morrison government said: "The Australian Government has always been ready to assist and cooperate with efforts that help shed further light on the matters under investigation. The PM confirmed this readiness once again in conversation with the President."

"We don't know very much about this call yet, so it's unclear what will happen next," explains Dr David Smith from the University of Sydney’s US Studies Centre.

"Certainly, it shows Trumps preoccupation that people around him are out to get him."

Australia has long been implicated in in the Mueller investigation, with Alexander Downer meeting with George Papadopoulos, the then Trump campaign adviser who told him about damaging Russian information about rival Hilary Clinton. 

"Though it is absurd to think Downer was at the centre of a spy ring to get Trump elected," Dr Smith said.

Downer told RN Breakfast he does had no knowledge of any conversation Morrison had with Trump over the Mueller investigation.

Phone calls and foreign interference has long shoved Trump's diplomacy into the spotlight. An official impeachment inquiry into United States’ President Donald Trump was announced last week following allegations Trump pressured the Ukrainian President in a phone call to provide information that could be used against Trump’s rival in next year’s US election.

Impeachment is enshrined in the US constitution. The founders of the United States wanted to ensure that the powers of the presidency could not be abused, so they included measures to get rid of the head of state in cases of criminal conduct.

The Constitution limits grounds of impeachment to "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."

It's a two part process. A vote of impeachment has to pass the House (the lower chamber). If it is approved, a trial is then held in the Senate where a two-thirds majority vote is required.

Every member of congress has fixed terms in this US -- members of congress have fixed terms and the president has four-year fixed terms.

“So, impeachment is the only way to get rid of a member of congress or president,” said Dr David Smith.

“That makes impeachment a very important process for the US.”

Could this happen in Australia?

The president is the head of state for the United States. Queen Elizabeth is Australia’s head of state.

A monarch cannot be removed in the British Royal Family.

When it comes to our prime minister, it’s more complicated.

The prime minister may be replaced if members of the government elect a new leader -- as happened with Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott, Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd -- or, if the government loses the majority of its support in the House of Representatives.

The prime ministers of Australia since 2007: Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull.
The prime ministers who have been ousted by their own party,
AAP

A governor general has the power to “withdraw their commission” from a prime minister. Governor General John Kerr used this power when he dismissed the Labor Government of Gough Whitlam in 1975.

In the Australian political system, and other systems similar to ours, a prime minister can be removed by a vote of no confidence.

If this motion passes it normally requires the government to resign.

“Motions of no confidence are often moved, but they are rarely passed,” Dr David Smith said.

A motion of no confidence against a prime minister has never been successful in Australia.

In the US, impeachment is only supposed to apply in cases of suspected criminal offences, Dr Smith explains.

“Whereas in Australia, a vote of no-confidence can be moved when a member of parliament doesn’t believe the government is doing a good job,” he said.

The US President and the Congress are stuck with each other for an entire term.

“Elections are held at fixed times and that is unusual compared to our system, where the Prime Minister can be dismissed by their own party,” he said.

“The President may not have the majority in either house, but he will stay there unless he is impeached.”

The US House of Representatives has voted to table an impeachment resolution against President Donald Trump.
The US House of Representatives has voted to table an impeachment resolution against President Donald Trump.
NYT

Will a Trump impeachment impact Australia?

Time will tell if Donald Trump will be impeached. Dr Smith predicts it is unlikely and either outcome will not have a significant impact on Australia.

“The United States and Australia have a business as usual relationship, based on similar shared strategic interests and a stable business relationship.”

“Scott Morrision has been very friendly to Trump -- picking up on the fact that Trump values relationships above all else -- but the Australia and US relationship has pretty much continued as normal.”