Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott hurries up leadership decision

February 9, 2015 4:51 am

’s fate will be decided this morning after he brought
forward a backbencher motion for a leadership ballot, prompting his main
rival, Malcolm Turnbull, to all but declare his intention to stand if
the motion is carried.
As the Australian Prime Minister’s critics
warned the move could backfire, Abbott’s authority was further dented
yesterday when Arthur Sinodinos, a respected Liberal Senator, declared
he would back a leadership contest. “I believe we have to have this
discussion,” he said. And in an extraordinary intervention, Liberal MP
Teresa Gambaro accused the Coalition Government of “belligerence and
hubris”, and said backbenchers had endured “an internal climate of fear
and intimidation … for the past five years”. Abbott took over the
party leadership from Turnbull in 2009.
The motion, announced by
two backbenchers on Friday, was due to be voted on at a party room
meeting tomorrow. Abbott’s decision to move the vote to 11am NZ time
today was interpreted as a sign he believes his support is eroding.

Tony Abbott. Photo / AP

One Liberal MP, speaking to Corp, called it
“desperate”. In a telling choice of words, Turnbull described it as a
“captain’s call” – linking it to other unpopular decisions taken by
Abbott without consulting his colleagues.
Asked whether he would
stand for the leadership if the motion was carried, Turnbull said that
was “a hypothetical question for the time being”. But he added: “If for
whatever reason the leadership of a political party is vacant, then any
member of the party can stand … without any disloyalty to the person
whose leadership has been declared vacant.” In an apparent rebuke to
Abbott, he warned: “It’s very important to remember that the leadership
[is] the unique gift of the party room. What that means is, members of
the party room have got to have time to talk to each other.”

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo / AP
’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo / AP
According to the Australian Financial Review,
Abbott’s allies – who include Treasurer Joe Hockey, Trade Minister
Andrew Robb and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann – believe 60 to 70 of
the 102 federal Liberal politicians will vote against the motion. It is
widely believed the lead would narrow substantially if Turnbull was to
declare his intentions before the vote. Abbott said that if the motion
was defeated, “I will be taking that as a strong endorsement of the
existing leadership team, as a vote of confidence.”
He had
brought the vote forward, he said, because “the last thing Australia
needs right now is instability and uncertainty … I’ve decided the best
thing we can do is deal with the spill motion as quickly as possible
and put it behind us. The only question for our party is ‘do we want to
reduce ourselves to the level of the Labor Party in dragging down a
first-term prime minister’?”
But Sinodinos, who was chief of
staff to former PM John Howard, said rushing the vote showed a lack of
“respect for the party room and its views”. He suggested deputy Julie
Bishop, who is considered another potential candidate, had not been
consulted before the move was announced.
Eric Abetz, the Senate
leader, denied reports he had been trying to broker a compromise in
which Abbott would stay on as leader but Hockey would be replaced by
Turnbull. A Galaxy poll in News Corp’s Sunday papers found that 55 per
cent of voters think Abbott should stand down.
5 Key developments yesterday
Prime Minister Tony Abbott brings forward to today a scheduled
partyroom meeting at which the motion would have been considered. Says
it is best to deal with the issue as quickly as possible and “put it
behind us”. Warns his colleagues that dragging down a first-term prime
minister would reduce the Liberal Party to Labor’s level.
Potential leadership contender Malcolm Turnbull labels the PM’s
decision a “captain’s call”. Turnbull says any MP – whether a minister
or backbencher – can stand for the vacant leadership without being
3 Prominent Liberal backbencher Teresa
Gambaro suggests the PM’s decision smacks of belligerence and hubris.
Former assistant treasurer Arthur Sinodinos says MPs should be given
time to discuss the matter at hand. “Tuesday is the time to do that,” he
says. He will support the motion.
4 Abbott
stands by Joe Hockey amid reports senior Liberals advised him to replace
the Treasurer with Turnbull to save his leadership. Hockey says any
Cabinet minister who supports the spill motion should resign before the
5 A Galaxy poll has Labor leading the
Coalition 57 per cent to 43 per cent. With Turnbull as PM, the margin
narrows to 51 per cent to 49 per cent.

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