Tony Abbott’s survival as prime minister depends on improving his performance, senior Liberals say.
Liberal backbencher Dennis Jensen has called on the prime minister to stand aside and fellow MP Warren Entsch says the leadership question must be resolved “one way or another” next Tuesday when their parliamentary colleagues meet for the first time in 2015.
Mr Abbott’s backers estimate there are only 10 to 15 supporters of a change, while others suggest the figure could be 30 out of the 102-strong party room.
Potential challengers Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop scoffed at speculation they were meeting in Sydney on Thursday.
Mr Turnbull, who has denied canvassing support for a tilt, tweeted about his trip to the NSW Central Coast for a Politics in the Pub session, while Ms Bishop also used twitter to show she was in western Sydney.
“We have a very good prime minister in Tony Abbott,” Mr Turnbull told reporters after arriving by train in Tuggerah.
— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) February 5, 2015
But when asked what he believed would happen when the party room met next Tuesday, Mr Turnbull was evasive.
“We’ll see. You’ll just have to wait and see,” he said.
“We have a very strong government, very competent government.
“We’re a very united team.”
Trade Minister Andrew Robb says backbench concerns about the government’s policy direction are legitimate but will be addressed.
“We allowed some surprise policies to be dropped out in the budget last year to do with education, to do with health,” Mr Robb said.
While they had merit, they had not been properly discussed within the party, he said, and the government had allowed Labor to “frighten people” about them.
Asked whether Mr Abbott needed to take responsibility for the government’s woes, Mr Robb told Sky News: “We all have, and he’s part of it. He’s a big part. He’s the leader.”
The government is continuing talks with Senate crossbenchers on university deregulation, while Health Minister Sussan Ley says no deadline had been set on negotiating Medicare changes with doctors and other groups.
Mr Robb said “of course” support for Mr Abbott would come with conditions.
“Tony Abbott has said himself, he will retain the authority and the leadership of the party on performance.”
However, there were no challengers and Mr Abbott had the support of the entire cabinet.
Former minister Arthur Sinodinos, now a backbench senator, said his support for Mr Abbott was not unconditional.
Asked if Mr Abbott would be leader next week, he said: “Comrade, ask me next week.”
For his part, Mr Abbott is very confident of being prime minister by the end of next week – parliament’s first sitting week for the year.
“I know my colleagues, I trust my colleagues, I respect my colleagues,” he said.
Treasurer Joe Hockey pleaded with coalition MPs.
“I would say to everyone – put the country first, focus on the job you have to do to build prosperity, stop engaging in commentary,” he said.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Warren Truss said an agreement between the coalition parties couldn’t be guaranteed if the Liberals changed leaders.
“At this stage, I don’t think that is likely to be an issue,” he said.