Monday 23 October 2017

Tony Abbott wins leadership vote

Tony Abbott leaves a meeting of the ruling Liberal Party, surrounded by supporters (AP)
Tony Abbott leaves a meeting of the ruling Liberal Party, surrounded by supporters (AP)

Australia's beleaguered prime minister Tony Abbott survived an internal government challenge to his leadership, despite a revolt by dozens of colleagues that leaves him politically damaged.

A meeting of MPs in the ruling conservative Liberal Party voted 61 to 39 to reject a motion that called for a ballot for party leader and deputy.

Mr Abbott needed a stronger show of support from his colleagues to ward off potential future challenges if the government continues to endure sagging approval ratings in opinion polls.

But he said later that he should stay in charge of the government until voters decide his fate in elections next year.

"We want to end the disunity and the uncertainty which destroyed two Labour governments and give you the good government that you deserve," he said, referring to the centre-left Labour Party that dumped prime ministers in similar internal struggles in 2010 and 2013.

"We think that when you elect a government, when you elect a prime minister, you deserve to keep that government and that prime minister until you have a chance to change your mind."

The challenge showed that 39 of 102 Liberal MPs wanted a change at the helm, even though no one had officially announced he or she was willing to stand against Mr Abbott.

It came halfway through his first three-year term as prime minister. His party has never dumped a first-term prime minister.

The challenge to Mr Abbott's leadership was a "spill motion" that declares the party leadership open to any candidates in a ballot.

It was triggered by disgruntled government MPs last week and was to be discussed tomorrow at the year's first scheduled Liberal Party meeting.

But Mr Abbott yesterday arranged a special meeting for this morning, leaving some MPs scrambling to book earlier flights to Canberra, and giving his opponents less time to garner support to topple him.

The internal tussle came as an opinion poll published in The Australian newspaper showed that Mr Abbott's popularity had reached its lowest point in his five years as party leader.

The poll found that only 24% of respondents were satisfied with the prime minister's performance while 68% were dissatisfied.

His conservative coalition government lagged behind the Labour opposition with 43% of respondents favouring the government and 57% supporting Labour.

If the motion had passed today, the positions of prime minister and his deputy, foreign minister Julie Bishop, would have been declared open.

There would then have been secret ballots of Liberal Party MPs later in the day to either return Mr Abbott and Ms Bishop or replace them.

Communications minister Malcolm Turnbull, who led the party in opposition until he lost by a single vote to the more conservative Abbott in a 2009 leadership ballot, is touted as favourite to replace the prime minister if there is another challenge.

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, he 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.

Press Association

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