It looks increasingly likely the Prime Minister will face a leadership spill before the year is out.
Tony Abbott’s immediate fate is to some extent in his own hands. As chair of the Liberal party room meeting he will decide whether the all-important “spill” motion is a secret ballot or a show of hands.
When the 102 Liberal MPs vote on the motion to declare the leader’s and deputy leader’s positions vacant on Tuesday, it can either be by secret ballot or show of hands. Party whip Philip Ruddock says without written rules, it is up to the leader to decide. “It’s Tony’s call,” he said.
The two West Australian MPs who will move and second the motion, Luke Simpkins and Don Randall, said they believed the spill motion should be voted on by secret ballot.
When Malcolm Turnbull faced his showdown as opposition leader in 2009 he asked former prime minister John Howard, who said it was up to Turnbull and Turnbull opted for a secret ballot.
The decision is important because it would put the ministry in a very difficult position. Voting for an unsuccessful spill would be a vote of no confidence in the executive of which they are a part. There are 19 cabinet ministers, 11 outer ministers and 12 parliamentary secretaries who owe their jobs to the prime minister.
Should the spill ballot be successful, the actual leadership vote would be by secret ballot.
Ruddock, the father of the house who entered parliament in 1973 told Guardian Australia he could not recall other examples of a secret ballot being allowed for a spill motion. But back in 2009 then opposition whip Alex Somlyay could recall two precedents for a secret ballot – in 1974 when Malcolm Fraser was trying to overthrow Bill Snedden and in 1989 when Andrew Peacock was stalking John Howard.
Abbott’s office said the voting procedures “remained unclear”, but senior Liberals said they would be surprised if Abbott tried to force a “show of hands” because he would want the ballot to be seen to be fair.
How many candidates stand could also be critical to the outcome. Abbott’s own surprise victory on December 1 2009, by a single vote, was due to Malcolm Turnbull recontesting, instead of standing aside. Unexpectedly Hockey was eliminated in the first round of voting and then Abbott won the subsequent ballot by 42 votes to 41.
The federal Liberal backbencher Luke Simpkins has submitted a motion to spill the party’s leadership positions, beginning the process to force a vote on Tony Abbott’s prime ministership next week.
Abbott’s supporters had been calling for the prime minister to be given more time to turn around the government’s flagging fortunes, but Simpkins announced on Friday he had begun the formal process to declare the leadership positions open.
The WA-based backbencher told his colleagues he had submitted to the chief government whip a motion to spill the positions, and this should be considered in a secret ballot at the party room meeting next week. It was seconded by WA backbencher Don Randall.
Simpkins said he did not have frontbench ambitions but felt the need to bring the issue to a head “and test the support of the leadership in the party room”.
More details soon …
The Nationals are not happy. There they were, standing at the front of the church, and here comes a different bride waltzing down the aisle. (And we thought the Nats were against gay marriage.) Here he is in the Northern Daily Leader.
Member for New England Barnaby Joyce has warned the Nationals may walk away from the Coalition in the wake of an upcoming spill next Tuesday.
News of the spill broke this afternoon when Western Australian Liberal MP Luke Simpkins confirmed he will seek a leadership spill against Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
“What I say to my colleagues in the Liberal party is this: we didn’t want this. We gave you fair warning,” Mr Joyce told the Leader.
“Do not consider that the National party support is without question.”
“If all of a sudden a different person is walking down the aisle towards us, don’t necessarily think the wedding is still on.”