VICTORIAN Nationals MP Darren Chester says the Coalition came “dangerously close” to being “just like Labor” with this week's leadership spill motion.
A relieved Mr Chester said he congratulated the Liberal party room for “pulling back from the edge of the cliff and for showing that cooler heads prevailed”, by voting down the spill motion 61 to 39 votes on Monday morning.
“I don’t think the Australian people actually voted for us with a great deal of love and affection,” he said of the 2013 federal election result.
“They voted for us because they hated Labor’s chaos and dysfunction. So we need to keep that in mind.
“We’re on probation with the Australian people, and if we go down that path of fighting among ourselves like the Labor party did, we will be very harshly judged at the next election.”
One of the major conundrums facing the Coalition is whether to remove a first-term Prime Minister and suffer a fate similar to the one it vehemently criticised Labor for during the previous Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government, for causing national instability.
But the conundrum within a conundrum for the National Party is that they don’t get to vote on the Liberal Party’s leadership despite suffering the potential political damage from such a decision.
Last week, National party leader Warren Truss stated repeatedly that the Coalition agreement was between him and Mr Abbott and any Liberal leadership change would require its re-negotiation.
But with an expectation of continued poor returns in voter polling, disgruntled Liberals appear set to maintain a campaign against Mr Abbott, possibly to replace him with the more palatable and popular Malcolm Turnbull.
But the Communications Minister remains unpopular with the Nationals due to his past views on carbon trading policy and previous disregard for potential impacts on farmers.
In contrast to the Liberals, Mr Chester said the National Party leadership wasn’t an issue of serious conjecture and “doesn’t even come up in discussion; either publicly or privately”.
“We have a strong, united team,” he said. “The love and respect for Warren Truss is very genuine in our party room.
“When he was ill last year a lot of people were speculating about his future but we were hoping he’d get better.
“Some of the Canberra insiders were already burying him, but we were cheering him on and making sure he got better and got back to full health.
“Warren has the 100 per cent support of the party room and will be leader of the Nationals for as long as he wants to be leader.”
Hume Liberal MP Angus Taylor said while 61 Liberals voted against the spill motion, the National Party’s support – with its 15 MPs and six Senators – was also an important consideration.
Mr Taylor said there was “no question” about Mr Abbott’s ability to build and manage the Liberal party’s relationship with the Nationals, “and that’s been a big plus for us”.
“There’s been very little tension in the Coalition,” he said.
“I know my personal relationships with the Nationals are very, very strong and we’ve got very effective working relationships.
“It is true Tony has been very good at that and I’m acutely conscious of that and we need to maintain it.”
Mr Taylor said it was also “understandable” that the Nationals had strategically distanced themselves from Liberal infighting over leadership in recent weeks.
“It has been a Liberal Party issue,” he said.
“But I think the Nationals’ concern quite rightly is they want a strong and effective Coalition where they have a voice and they are also able to exercise influence and they have been very supportive of Tony’s leadership.”
However, Mr Taylor – who voted against the spill motion - said he didn’t expect to be dealing with another leadership ballot any time soon.
He said Mr Abbott had a “near death experience” politically and would heed the associated lessons and make necessary changes, such as improved backbench consultations.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten said Labor had learnt its lesson and had new leadership rules which would prevent it from repeating the “circus that we saw from the Liberals”.
“The Liberal Party has broken so many promises since they came to office,” he said.
“Politics isn’t that hard in Australia, it’s about a covenant of trust between the voters and the people they vote for and the Abbott government, all of them, have smashed it with their broken promises and lies.
“Perhaps the biggest broken promise of all was that they said 521 days ago they would be a government of adults, they would be stable, they would be sensible.
“Well that is clearly not the case.”