NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has dodged an “empty chair” leadership challenge from Liberal MPs plotting revenge over her decision to allow a free vote on abortion.
The plotters revealed this morning they will not proceed amid predictions the spill motion could receive as little as three votes – less than 12 hours after calling the Premier to be dumped.
“The numbers will speak for themselves,” a defiant Gladys Berejiklian said this morning.
In a statement released before 8am on Tuesday the MPs said they would withdraw the motion.
“Since releasing our statement last night, we have received confirmation that further concessions will be forthcoming in relation to the amendments to the abortion bill,” they said.
“On this basis, I have called the premier this morning and advised her that we will withdraw the spill motion to continue negotiations prior to the debate in the upper house commencing later today.”
The backdown comes after senior Liberal ministers came out in support of Ms Berejiklian ahead of a Liberal party room meeting at 10am.
“Gladys is the people’s choice as Premier and I support her as our leader,” Treasurer Dominic Perrottet tweeted on Monday night soon after the rebels’ announcement.
Attorney-General Mark Speakman, Police minster David Elliot, Transport Minister Andrew Constance and Families and Communities Minister Gareth Ward joined Mr Perrottet in backing Ms Berejiklian.
I’ve said it before, and I say it again today: @GladysB was brave to allow this long overdue reform to come forward. She deserves congratulations and respect, not this nonsense.
— Tanya Plibersek (@tanya_plibersek) September 16, 2019
Mr Ward characterised the three MPs as an “arrogant” fringe.
“The reality is that this is an attempt by people who want to hold the rest of parliament over a barrel because they’re not getting their way on a particular issue,” he told ABC radio.
Mr Speakman had predicted the spill was going to be a bit of a “fizzer”.
“The party’s support is overwhelmingly for Gladys. She has delivered us a strong election victory,” he told 2GB on Tuesday.
Liberal MP Scott Farlow – speaking after the spill was called off – said the premier had his full support.
“There is no chaos in the Liberal Party we are very well served by Gladys Berejiklian,” he told reporters outside parliament.
The private member’s bill was moved by Independent lower house MP Alex Greenwich in August.
It’s caused division within the conservative rump of the Liberal party, with Ms Davies and another Liberal MP Kevin Conolly repeatedly threatening to move the crossbench unless amendments to the abortion bill were made.
The Berejiklian governments holds a slim two-seat majority following the March state election.
Opponents of the bill have raised concerns about late-term abortions, gender-based terminations and the way the bill was introduced.
In its current form, the legislation would allow terminations up to 22 weeks, as well as later abortions if two doctors agree the termination should occur.
Mr Greenwich on Tuesday morning tweeted that abortion should be treated as a health care issue, not a crime.
“I’m grateful that a clear majority of government, cross-bench, and opposition MPs support this and our co-sponsored bill,” he said.
The Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 passed the NSW lower house 59-31 in August when Liberal MPs were allowed a conscience vote.
NSW upper house MPs were due to start considering changes to the bill on Tuesday afternoon, after a weekend of demonstrations by supporters and opponents of the legislation.