Former frontbencher Arthur Sinodinos has declared he will be supporting a motion to spill the leadership of the Liberal Party at Monday’s party room meeting.
The motion was scheduled to be debated on Tuesday, but Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Sunday morning he had asked the chief government whip to call a special meeting for Monday.
Mr Abbott argued it was in the party’s interests to deal with the spill motion as quickly as possible.
His office confirmed he had consulted senior colleagues, including deputy leader Julie Bishop, before shifting the date.
But it angered some on the already fractious Liberal backbench who told the ABC they received the notice an hour after Mr Abbott’s announcement.
“I am disappointed that the spill motion will now be considered on Monday and not Tuesday,” Senator Sinodinos said.
“That is the normal time for these matters to be considered. It gives us proper in-depth discussion of the issues.
“It may be for the convenience of Parliament, but it would be better to show respect for colleagues by sticking to the normal time.”
Senator Sinodinos, a former chief of staff to John Howard, said he would support the spill motion “because I believe we have to have this discussion”.
Mr Abbott earlier said it was important to end the uncertainty at the 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 for our party is: Do we want to reduce ourselves to the level of the Labor Party in dragging down a first term prime minister?”
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told the ABC’s Insiders program that 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 [Monday] 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.”
Turnbull says change of timing a ‘captain’s pick’
Speaking to reporters before the announcement on Sunday morning, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull praised Mr Abbott for keeping the partyroom 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 partyroom meeting.”
He later responded to the change of timing by describing it as a “captain’s call” by Mr Abbott.
When asked by reporters whether he planned to stand for the leadership if the motion succeeded, Mr Turnbull said “that’s a hypothetical question for the time being”.
“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 media, through the megaphone of the media.
“If for whatever reason the leadership of a political party is vacant, then any member of the party can stand … without any disloyalty to the person whose leadership has been declared vacant.”
Other MPs and senators who spoke to the ABC were split on the decision to bring forward the spill, with some saying it made sense and others outraged.
One senator said the leaderships crisis was not, as the Prime Minister described it, like an episode of Game Of Thrones.
“It’s Dumb And Dumber,” he said.
“If this move had been made on Friday, it would have been unexceptional. He’s in real trouble now.”
Another said he interpreted the move as a sign of panic.