Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s leadership looks increasingly shaky with government ministers foreshadowing another challenge, with one report suggesting it could come before this week’s critical by-election in WA.
On Sunday night, a Liberal minister, who is not an Abbott ally, told Sky News a challenge from Malcolm Turnbull was “coming like a freight train”.
The ABC reported it had spoken to eight government ministers, with six saying the Prime Minister’s leadership would face another challenge before the end of the year.
Channel Nine added to speculation about Mr Abbott’s future, reporting that Mr Turnbull rejected calls from within the government to publicly rule out a challenge, and that a leadership spill was possible this week.
“And this time I think they will get him,” one minister said.
Nine political analyst Laurie Oakes reported that the PM had run the idea of a snap election past New Corp boss Rupert Murdoch at a recent meeting.
After the meeting, Mr Murdoch tweeted that “the only” hope for the nation was a “new poll”, and declared his support for Mr Abbott.
In spite of some blind spots, Abbott far the best alternative. Principled and a fighter.
— Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) September 3, 2015
On Monday, Liberal MPs rejected speculation of a spill.
Parliamentary secretary Steve Ciobo told ABC radio his colleagues were not immersing themselves in chatter about the leadership, saying: “I have no doubt that Tony Abbott will lead us to the next election”.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told Sky News the leadership team of Mr Abbott and Julie Bishop still enjoyed “overwhelming support”.
A double-digit swing against the Liberal Party in Canning would fuel the unrest and a turnaround of that magnitude is possible. Both the News Limited Galaxy poll and the Fairfax Ipsos poll point to a 10-point swing.
The Ipsos poll has the Liberal Party leading Labor after preferences are distributed by 52 to 48 per cent — it was 62 to 38 per cent at the 2013 general election.
“And that’s after we spent $1 million on that seat to save the Prime Minister, and Labor has spent nothing,” one Cabinet minister said.
“He said: ‘Give me six months.’ Well, he has had six months and things have gone from bad to worse.
“He should just resign.”
A pro-Abbott frontbencher labelled the ongoing speculation a “destructive… co-ordinated campaign”, but did not believe it would lead to a spill this week.
Focussed on the job
Earlier, Mr Abbott said he was more concerned about running the country than the latest leadership gossip, a week out from the crucial by-election.
Asked about the speculation, Mr Abbott said: “I’m concerned with good government.”
“That’s what I’m preoccupied with every day, not insider Canberra gossip,” he told reporters in Perth on Sunday.
Senior government frontbencher Peter Dutton says Mr Abbott has strong support in the party room.
The government has persistently lagged behind Labor in opinion polls, but Mr Dutton believes once next year’s federal election is called, people will judge the government’s record and it will win a second term.
“I think when people start to focus on the alternative, which is what election campaigns are about, I believe we can defeat Labor,” Mr Dutton told Sky News.
Another frontbencher, Scott Morrison, said he doesn’t know anything about a leadership challenge.
“I support the prime minister and everybody knows that, so I suspect that they’re not talking to me,” Mr Morrison told the Ten Network.
Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek said it was “odds on” that the Liberals would change leaders.
But she didn’t think switching who was in charge would make much difference.
“It’s extraordinary that they think a change of leadership is going to fix all of that because they’re all part of the same team that made the same bad decisions on the same product,” she told ABC TV.
‘We won’t lose Canning’
The PM stuck to the script amid the speculation and insisted the focus remained on the Canning by-election.
“Well, we’re not going to lose the Canning by-election,” he told reporters on the campaign trail.
“I’m just not going to get into this kind of what would be a good result, what would not … all I know is that I want the best possible candidate for Canning and that’s what we have got in Andrew Hastie.”
with ABC, AAP