PM moves vote forward shortly after Malcolm Turnbull emphasises the importance of keeping it on Tuesday, angering numerous MPs
Tony Abbott has brought forward the vote on the leadership spill motion by one day, shortly after Malcolm Turnbull emphasised the importance of keeping it on Tuesday.
The decision to rush the vote angered numerous MPs, including NSW senator Arthur Sinodinos, a former assistant treasurer and the chief of staff to John Howard.
Time is running out for Tony Abbott’s chaotic and dysfunctional government
Lenore Taylor political editor
The backbench MP for Brisbane, Teresa Gambaro, warned against an “internal climate of fear and intimidation” and said: “We cannot govern the country through belligerence and hubris.”
The prime minister announced he had asked the chief government whip, Philip Ruddock, to call a special party room meeting for 9am on Monday to consider the spill motion.
The spill motion brought by two West Australian backbenchers was originally expected to be considered at Tuesday’s regular party room meeting, the first of the year.
Abbott said it was “important to end the uncertainty at the very beginning of the parliamentary sitting week” and deal with the spill motion and “put it behind us”.
“The normal party room meeting scheduled for Tuesday morning will also go ahead in the usual way,” he said.
“The only question – 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 told reporters in Sydney on Sunday.
“Obviously, I’ve been talking to many colleagues over the last few days and my very strong sense is that we are determined to do what we were elected to do, to clean up Labor’s mess and to give our people the economic security and the national security that they need and deserve.”
Abbott left the media conference without taking any questions from reporters.
Bringing the vote on early raised the possibility of some people not being able to make it to Canberra in time. Ruddock said 101 of the 102 Liberal party room members were confirmed to attend, while he was checking the status of the final person.
Earlier on Sunday, Turnbull said Abbott had “shown great respect for the party room by saying that the meeting will be on Tuesday” rather than rushing it forward to Monday.
“He knows members coming to Canberra who will have been getting lots of phone calls and talking to their constituents, many of which will be uncertain, will want to have the opportunity to sit down and talk to each other in the nation’s capital in the course of that Monday leading up to the Tuesday,” the communications minister and former Liberal leader said.
Turnbull’s supporters have indicated he is likely to run for the top job if the party room passes the initial spill motion declaring open the leadership positions.
Turnbull said on Sunday he would vote against the spill motion because that was what was expected of all cabinet members, but refused to rule out being a contender if the motion succeeded.
“It’s very important to remember that the leadership of the Liberal party is, as John Howard said, the unique gift of the party room,” he said. “Now, what that means is that members of the party room have got to have the time to talk to each other, backbenchers talking to each other, backbenchers talking to frontbenchers, frontbenchers talking to frontbenchers and so forth.”
In an apparent reference to Abbott supporters fronting the media to push their case, Turnbull said it was important to talk to colleagues directly “rather than, you know, giving them advice or lecturing them or trying to communicate with them through the media, through the megaphone of the media”.
Turnbull also praised Abbott for suggesting the spill motion would be voted on through a secret ballot, saying this would allow the party room “to make its own decisions without any pressure, without people feeling that if they go one way or another, they’ll be subject to some sort of recrimination or vindictiveness or something like that”.
Gambaro issued a strongly worded statement after Abbott’s announcement.
“We cannot govern ourselves in an internal climate of fear and intimidation,” the Brisbane MP said. “And that is the unacceptable situation we have endured for the past five years.
“Equally we cannot govern the country through belligerence and hubris. In our parliamentary democracy, MPs, as elected officials, have the individual honour to serve the people of their respective electorates and as such deserve to have their voices heard. This is the path to good government.”
The manoeuvring came as a new poll suggested a leadership change would boost the Coalition’s standing with voters, but not would not place the government in an election-winning position.
The Galaxy poll for News Corp showed Labor was leading the Coalition 57% to 43% after preferences. Labor’s lead would shrink to 51% to 49% under Turnbull, the poll suggested.
In another scenario put to respondents, with the Coalition led by Julie Bishop, Labor’s lead would be 53% to 47%.
The Galaxy poll also asked whether Abbott should stand down, with 55% of respondents saying that he should and 35% disagreeing.
Senior ministers moved on Sunday to quash speculation Abbott could strike a peace deal by dumping Joe Hockey as treasurer and placing Turnbull in the key economic role.
News Corp reported that several cabinet ministers had urged Abbott to replace Hockey in the role. But the finance minister, Mathias Cormann, told the ABC’s Insiders program: “Joe Hockey has the full and complete support of the prime minister. That story is wrong.”
The Coalition’s Senate leader, Eric Abetz, emphatically rejected claims he had suggested the treasurer should be replaced. “I continue to support the leadership team and I continue to support all of my ministerial colleagues, including the treasurer,” he said.
The News Corp executive chairman Rupert Murdoch called on the Liberal party not to change leaders. Murdoch tweeted on Sunday: “Abbott, good guy, not perfect but no case for rebellion. Remember last one gave us Gillard disaster. Country still paying for it.”
— Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) February 7, 2015
Abbott, good guy, not perfect but no case for rebellion. Remember last one gave us Gillard disaster. Country still paying for it.
Abbott has brought forward the spill motion to Monday but said the normal party room meeting scheduled for Tuesday morning would also go ahead in the usual way.