Coalition MPs have sent a strong message that Prime Minister Tony Abbott needs to change in Monday’s leadership spill, with a political commentator calling it a “big expression of dissent”.
Mr Abbott survived the assault on his prime ministership, but with more than a third of his ministry voting in favour of the spill, political professor John Wanna said it’s clear MPs are “very nervous”.
“Prime Ministers have battled through low polls before, but most of them haven’t had, at the same time as the polls, a destabilising campaign from their own side,” Prof Wanna said.
Professor Wanna said he was surprised by the amount of support the motion received.
“Most people were thinking it would be 25 maximum voting for the spill, but when you’ve got 39 voting for one, that’s a much bigger number and suggests some of his ministry might not have voted for him,” he said.
“A lot of Liberals think they should be ahead of a Labor opposition led by Bill Shorten and compounded on that is losing in Victoria and a reverse backlash in Queensland. That’s making them very nervous.”
Seven Coalition MPs publicly declared their support for the spill motion in the lead up to Monday’s meeting.
Queensland MPs Wyatt Roy and Andrew Laming supported the spill, as did Victorian MP Sharman Stone, Western Australian MP Dennis Jensen and Senator Arthur Sinodinos.
Luke Simpkins moved the spill motion last Friday, which was seconded by fellow WA MP Don Randall.
Speaking to Sky News after voting in favour of the spill motion, Mr Laming said backbench MPs had made themselves heard, but denied disunity would continue within the party.
“From my point of view we now go ahead completely and thoroughly united,” Mr Laming said.
“There are still things that aren’t resolved, but in the scheme of things, like the footy team in the change room, you can have those debates, but we’re now back on the field as of an hour ago.”
Mr Jensen said he accepted the party room had endorsed Mr Abbott, who told MPs he recognised there was a need for change in government policy.
“As I’ve said all along, it was about the what, not the who,” Mr Jensen told Sky News, denying the Prime Minister was still on tenterhooks.
“You can’t have a situation where after something like this you only allow someone one mistake. Human beings make mistakes. We need to allow him to set his agenda.”
Senator Eric Abetz said he was “confident” Mr Abbott would be prime minister at the 2016 election “and also after it”.
Speaking after the spill, Mr Abbott said the Liberal Party had dealt with the spill motion and the matter was “behind us”.
“I love this country and I will do my best to help this country succeed.”
In order to survive Mr Abbott must mend relations with his backbenchers and be more consultative, Prof Wanna said.
“Abbott’s in a difficult position because he’s been told to change his style and communication, but is he going to be able to do that and will he have enough time?”
“They wanted to make a point that he has got to change his ways. They weren’t indicating by having a spill vote that they wanted to get rid of him, but to make him behave.”
“Either you have to have backbenchers come up and talk to you, or set up parliamentary committees and take seriously what they come back with.”