Defiant Australian PM brings forward leadership challenge

[SYDNEY] Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Sunday said he would bring forward a challenge to his leadership by 24 hours to Monday, as a potential contender declared his support for the embattled premier.

Abbott has been fighting for his job after poor poll ratings and a series of policy backflips spurred his own conservative Liberal Party MPs to openly attack him, calling for a leadership "spill" on Tuesday.

The motion aims to declare the positions of leader and deputy leader of the party - currently occupied by Abbott and Deputy Prime Minister Julie Bishop - vacant so the party room, or members of both houses of parliament, can vote for new candidates.

But a defiant Mr Abbott declared he wanted the vote over and done with as soon as possible.

"The last thing Australia needs right now is instability and uncertainty," he told reporters Sunday.

"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 meeting of the governing Liberal Party will be held on Monday morning, 24 hours before the previously scheduled spill motion, the Australian leader said.

"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," he added.

Mr Abbott was highly critical of Labor when the party switched prime ministers twice during its time in power from 2007 to 2013.

Prime minister Kevin Rudd was ousted by his deputy Julia Gillard in 2010, later returning the favour and storming back to power in 2013 shortly before losing the election to Mr Abbott's coalition.

Mr Abbott's comments came just hours after Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, seen as one of the main contenders for the prime ministership, broke his silence on the challenge to speak to a television station outside his home in Sydney early Sunday.

"I'm in the cabinet, I support the prime minister," Mr Turnbull, who once lost a leadership tussle with Mr Abbott by one vote when the Liberals were in opposition, told a Channel Ten reporter.

"You don't have to keep on saying that all the time." But Mr Turnbull did not say if he would stand as a candidate if the spill motion was successful and the leader's position declared vacant.

Similarly, another potential candidate - Foreign Minister Bishop - said last week she would be against a spill but did not add what she would do if the motion was successful.

An opinion poll published Sunday by News Corporation newspapers found that 55 per cent of voters wanted Abbott to stand down as prime minister, with just 35 percent saying he should stay on. Some 10 per cent were undecided.


BT is now on Telegram!

For daily updates on weekdays and specially selected content for the weekend. Subscribe to