Monday 18 December 2017

Abbott survives 'near-death experience' to win vote

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (C) walks with Deputy Leader Julie Bishop (R) having survived a leadership heave - nonetheless, his days as party leader could still be numbered, according to commentators
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (C) walks with Deputy Leader Julie Bishop (R) having survived a leadership heave - nonetheless, his days as party leader could still be numbered, according to commentators

Jonathan Pearlman

Tony Abbott, Australia's prime minister, has admitted he survived a "near-death experience" after winning a humiliating party-room leadership vote, but analysts say the strong display of internal dissent means his demise is now inevitable.

Despite winning the motion in a secret Liberal party ballot by a 61 to 39 vote, Mr Abbott's leadership remains shaky and he immediately came under pressure as it emerged that the size of the backbench revolt appeared to be much larger than he anticipated.

If the challenge had succeeded, Mr Abbott's long-term rival Malcolm Turnbull was widely expected to have mounted a challenge in an ensuing leadership contest.

Political commentator Peter Hartcher said it was now "extremely unlikely" that Mr Abbott could survive.

"It is entirely possible that he (Mr Abbott) could limp along for months. It is more likely to be weeks," he told Channel Nine.


"We know the end of this story. This is a terminal government. A smart operation would bring this to a halt now."

Following the vote, Mr Abbott, a British-born monarchist and staunch conservative, continued his week-long effort to declare that he has changed and been chastened by his colleague's criticisms.

He was elected just 17 months ago but has struggled in the polls, especially after an unpopular belt-tightening budget which many viewed as unfair.

The catalyst for the leadership vote was his much-ridiculed decision to award a knighthood to British royal Prince Philip.

Despite some MPs claiming Mr Abbott was "ambushed", most observers and MPs believed his failure to consult and his series of questionable decisions had triggered the discontent - a view he appeared to accept.

"I have listened, I have learnt, and I have changed and the government will change with me," Mr Abbott said after the vote.

"I am determined to do better in these tests in the next few months than I have in the last couple of months."

Polls show Mr Abbott's ruling coalition trails Labour by 43 to 57pc and that his own dismal approval ratings have slumped.

Just 24pc of voters approve of his performance and 68pc disapprove, with the remainder uncommitted.

Most analysts believe a further challenge is inevitable and the question is how long Mr Abbott's fellow MPs will give him to try to recover his position in the polls and demonstrate stable leadership.

"Tony Abbott's leadership has suffered a massive blow - inevitably one that will prove fatal to his leadership," said commentator Mark Kenny in Fairfax Media. Noting that a leadership challenge could come as early as this week, Mr Kenny said: "It is no longer a case of if but when… If he survives for any length of time, his fate will be determined by opinion polls to which he will be hostage. This is no way to formulate policy."

Michael Gordon, political editor at 'The Age', wrote: "To say he (Mr Abbott) has been placed on notice is an understatement. One more serious misstep will hasten the demise that seems inevitable."

Mr Abbott has come under increasing criticism from some members of his own party -which is conservative despite its name - over the government's sagging approval ratings.

Polls have slumped since May, when the government's first annual budget was widely criticised as being toughest on the poor and most vulnerable.

Recently, Mr Abbott drew widespread criticism by making the 93-year-old Duke of Edinburgh an Australian knight on Australia's national day.

Many saw it as an insult to worthy Australians.

Public dislike of Mr Abbott has been blamed in part for big election losses for conservative governments in Victoria state in November and Queensland state last month. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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