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Embattled Australian PM says challenge against him will fail
[SYDNEY] Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Saturday that he expected a challenge against his leadership to fail and stressed his government would not repeat the "chaos and instability" of previous administrations.
With dismal ratings in opinion polls and a backbench disgruntled by policy backflips, two of Mr Abbott's MPs have said they will call for a challenge to his stewardship of the nation at a meeting of the governing Liberal Party on Tuesday.
But the conservative leader said he was expecting the so-called "spill motion", aimed at removing him and deputy Julie Bishop from their positions, to fail.
"Should this spill motion be defeated, as I expect, I will be taking that as a strong endorsement of the existing leadership team, as a vote of confidence in the existing leadership team," Mr Abbott told reporters.
"The last thing any of us should want to do is to reproduce the chaos and the instability of the Labor years," he said with Ms Bishop by his side.
Labor switched prime ministers twice in their last turn in government, first in 2010 when Julia Gillard removed prime minister Kevin Rudd in a party room coup, and then in 2013 when they changed back to Rudd.
"We are not Labor... and this Game of Thrones circus which the Labor Party gave us is never going to be reproduced by this coalition," Mr Abbott said in reference to the medieval fantasy drama in which characters vie for power.
Mr Abbott said the two Liberal backbenchers who had called for the challenge to his leadership were entitled to do so.
But he said the "spill" motion, which if successful would remove him and Bishop from their roles and trigger a new vote among Liberal Party parliamentarians for those positions, would likely fail.
So far no one has stepped forward to contest the leadership should the backbenchers succeed in their push for a vote, likely to be decided in a secret ballot.
Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a millionaire former lawyer who supports Australia becoming a republic, is considered a front runner while Ms Bishop could also throw her hat into the ring.
Foreign Minister Bishop said Saturday she would not support the spill motion to challenge Mr Abbott's leadership.
"My role as deputy is to support the leader, not to change the leader and I don't support a spill motion," she said.
Mr Abbott successfully ousted the centre-left Labor government from power in September 2013 elections.
Since then his government has stemmed the flow of asylum-seekers risking their lives on boats to get to Australia, finalised landmark trade agreements with China, Japan and South Korea and abolished a divisive carbon tax designed to tackle climate change.
But Mr Abbott's leadership has been under pressure following an unpopular budget and his changed positions on several issues, including paid leave for new parents.
A recent poll put Mr Abbott's ruling Liberal-National coalition behind the opposition Labor Party 46 to 54 per cent while Mr Abbott's personal rating has tumbled to just 34 percent.
His decision to award Britain's Prince Philip a knighthood on Australia Day late last month unleashed ridicule and left even supporters questioning his judgement.
"The reality is people have stopped listening to the prime minister," Liberal MP Luke Simpkins, who called for the challenge to Mr Abbott's leadership, said Friday.
Trade Minister Andrew Robb said his feeling was that the prime minister had been ambushed, but that Mr Abbott would nonetheless survive as leader.
"I think there are a majority of colleagues who feel that all of this has been somewhat of a panicked move, that it's making us look like a circus," he told Sky News.