EMBATTLED Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has said he and his deputy will urge the ruling party to reject calls for a leadership ballot next week that could potentially oust them.
The vote has been proposed in a bid to turn around the government’s dismal opinion polling.
Halfway through its first three-year term, the appearance of a united government has been shattered in recent weeks, with public dislike for Mr Abbott being blamed in part for big swings against conservative governments at elections in Victoria and Queensland states.
The revolt within the ruling Liberal Party ranks was brought to a head when Mr Abbott was widely criticised for making the Duke of Edinburgh an Australian knight on the country’s national day last month.
The challenge to Mr Abbott’s leadership from a growing band of disgruntled MPs has raised the prospect of communications minister Malcolm Turnbull becoming prime minister next week. Mr Turnbull lost the party leadership to the more conservative Mr Abbott by a single vote in a ballot in 2009 while the Liberals were in opposition.
Low-profile Liberal MP Luke Simpkins brought the leadership dispute to a head with an e-mail to his colleagues saying would move a motion at a party meeting next Tuesday calling for Mr Abbott to declare that his job and that of his deputy, Julie Bishop, were open to a ballot of 102 government MPs.
Fellow MP Don Randal agreed to second the motion.
Mr Abbott said he and Ms Bishop, the foreign minister, would urge the meeting to reject the motion.
He said Australians had voted out the chaotic and divided centre-left Labor Party government in 2013 because it had changed its prime minister twice in four years in a series of leadership challenges.
“They are perfectly entitled to call for this, but the next point to make is that they are asking the party room to vote out the people that the electorate voted in in September 2013,” Mr Abbott said.
“We are not the Labor Party and we are not going to repeat the chaos and the instability of the Labor years.”
If the motion is passed, it is not yet clear whether any MP will be nominated to run against Mr Abbott or his deputy.
Mr Turnbull is touted as the most likely potential replacement for Mr Abbott. He had yet to state his position last night.
Mr Simpkins said he expected Mr Turnbull would be one of a number of leadership contenders.
However, the former merchant banker is not popular with the Liberals’ coalition partners, the Nationals party.
Mr Turnbull lost his party leadership over his support for an Australian emissions-trading scheme proposed by the previous Labor government.