Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced he is bringing forward this week’s Liberal party room meeting in a bid to resolve the Liberal leadership crisis.
A motion to spill the party’s leadership was scheduled to be debated on Tuesday but Mr Abbott released a statement this morning, saying he had asked the Chief Whip to call a special party room meeting to deal with the issue on Monday.
Mr Abbott made a brief statement to the media, saying it was important to end the uncertainty at the very beginning of the Parliamentary sitting week.
“The last thing Australia needs right now is instability and uncertainty,” he said.
“On reflection and after talking to my colleagues, I’ve decided that the best thing we can do is deal with the spill motion as quickly as possible and put it behind us.”
“The only question, 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 PM?”
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told the ABC’s Insider’s program Mr Abbott had made the right decision in bringing forward the meeting.
“It’s inconceivable that it would be in the best interests of either the Liberal Party or the country for the Prime Minister to go into the Parliament tomorrow with this issue unresolved,” he said.
“So I think the Prime Minister has made absolutely the right decision and I believe that overwhelmingly my colleagues would agree that that was the right decision.”
However, speaking to reporters before the announcement this morning, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull praised Mr Abbott for keeping the party-room meeting on Tuesday as scheduled.
“The virtue of having it on Tuesday … [is] that members coming to Canberra who will have been getting lots of phone calls and talking to their constituents, many of which will be uncertain, will want to have the opportunity to sit down and talk to each other in the nation’s capital in the course of that Monday leading up to the Tuesday,” Mr Turnbull said.
“He’s … shown great respect for the party room by saying that the meeting will be on Tuesday which is the normal party room meeting.”
Mr Turnbull said as a Cabinet Minister he was “expected” to vote against the motion and again stated his support for Tony Abbott.
However, the ABC has been told Mr Turnbull’s supporters expect him to put himself forward for the party’s leadership, if the spill motion is carried.
Mr Turnbull confirmed “a lot” of MPs have asked him whether he would contest the leadership.
“It’s very important to remember that the leadership of the Liberal party is, as John Howard says, is the unique gift of the party room,” he said.
“What that means is, members of the party room have got to have time to talk to each other … it’s really important that we talk to our colleagues directly rather than giving them advice or lecturing them or trying to communicate with them … through the megaphone of the media.”
Bishop, Turnbull to attend fundraiser ahead of expected leadership challenge
Meanwhile, Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop and Mr Turnbull are expected to attend a fundraising brunch in Sydney today, bringing the two most likely challengers for the federal leadership together.
Philanthropist Lady Margot Burrell is hosting the event at her historic multi-million-dollar home in the Sydney suburb of Woollahra, in the heart of Mr Turnbull’s electorate.
The brunch was organised well in advance of the current leadership tensions, but Channel 9 reported that Ms Bishop denied a request from Mr Abbott to cancel her appearance alongside Mr Turnbull.
Both ministers are seen as likely contenders for the leadership in the event of a spill though neither has formally declared despite calling several colleagues over the weekend.
Earlier Mr Abbott said he expected his MPs would support him in a vote on his leadership in a secret ballot and warned them against descending into “some kind of Game of Thrones”.
Flanked by Ms Bishop in Townsville on Saturday morning, Mr Abbott said: “Australia has always been a stable country, with stable government, there was this eruption of instability during the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years and the last thing anyone wants is to see a government in this country turn into some kind of Game of Thrones.”
Despite being identified by those agitating for change as a potential replacement for Mr Abbott, Ms Bishop said she would vote against the spill motion.
“I certainly will, I support the Prime Minister, I support the leader, that is the role of the deputy and I’ve proven since 2007 that that’s the role I will play,” she said.
The Liberal Party’s rules do not spell out whether MPs should cast their votes in secret or by raising their hands or voicing their opinions.
A secret ballot could be more dangerous for Mr Abbott because it may see ministers vote against him who would not have if they had to vote in front of their colleagues.
Ministers have told the ABC they wanted a secret ballot because they did not want to be “bound” by principle of Cabinet solidarity to support Mr Abbott’s leadership.
— Latika Bourke (@latikambourke) February 7, 2015
— Sally McManus (@sallymcmanus) February 7, 2015
Maybe good time to parachute Prince Phillip into a safe seat…get those numbers up. #libspill
— Dan Ilic (@danilic) February 7, 2015
— amanda meade (@meadea) February 7, 2015