UPDATED 9.20am: TONY Abbott’s immediate fate as Liberal leader and Prime Minister is safe for the foreseeable future, with the leadership spill motion defeated by 61 votes to 39 at a special meeting of the Liberal party room at 9am today.
Rural Liberals and Nationals declared they don’t support the looming spill motion, while urging continued support for Mr Abbott to avoid repeating the leadership chaos of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government and destabilising the government.
Mr Abbott issued a statement on Sunday saying he’d the asked the Chief Government Whip to call the meeting to consider the spill motion, a day earlier than first declared last week.
“The last thing Australia needs right now is instability and uncertainty,” Mr Abbott said.
“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.
“Accordingly, I’ve asked the Whip, Philip Ruddock, to convene a Party Room meeting at 9 o’clock on Monday morning to deal with this matter.
“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.”
Labor is 'praying for Tony'
Last week, Mr Ruddock received a notice of motion from Western Australian Liberal MP Luke Simpkins, seconded by colleague Don Randall, proposing the scheduled Liberal party room meeting on Tuesday, “resolve, via secret ballot, that the senior positions of the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party be declared vacant”.
The spill push arrives as discontent over Mr Abbott’s leadership has escalated dramatically in the past fortnight, following his controversial decision to award a knighthood to Prince Philip and the LNP’s shock result at the Queensland State election.
Senior Liberal ministers Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop and Scott Morrison have all been touted as potential candidates - but with no declared challengers, Liberal members appear more determined to circumvent any actual leadership vote today.
However, political analysts are saying whether Mr Abbott survives any leadership vote this week, his deep-seated unpopularity and poor voter polling will continue and eventually ignite a leadership change before the next federal election in 2016.
Recognising the PM’s ongoing battle in the polls, one rural Labor MP said - tongue in cheek - that Labor party members are “praying for Tony”.
However, Victorian Liberal MP and chair of the Coalition’s agricultural backbench committee Dan Tehan declared he would be voting against the spill motion.
“I have been out and about in the electorate all week and the feedback I have received is that people want a government that is united,” he said.
“We have to stop focusing on ourselves, work as a team and get on with governing.
“My number one priority is working and delivering for the people and communities of Wannon.
“The Prime Minister has my support.”
Ditch the chaos, say rural MPs
South Australian Liberal MP Tony Pasin – also a member of the agricultural committee – issued a similar statement declaring his support for the leader reflecting the views of constituents in his rural electorate of Barker.
“The overwhelming message I am hearing is that the people of my electorate want the government to focus on delivering outcomes and delivering strong and stable leadership – not becoming a chaotic rabble like our predecessors,” he said.
“Under Prime Minister Abbott’s leadership, this government is delivering stronger economic ties through three free trade agreements in 17 months; helping business create 4000 new jobs a week; protecting our borders by stopping the boats; repairing the budget that was devastated by the previous Labor government; and has abolished the carbon and mining taxes.
“As a Prime Minister with a democratic mandate from the electorate we owe it to the voters to respect their decision and get on with the job.”
Mr Pasin urged his disillusioned colleagues to, “stop the mid-summer madness, stop talking about themselves and get on with the job of delivering strong and stable government for the people of Australia”.
National party members have also declared support for Mr Abbott and warned disgruntled Liberals against taking the Coalition down a similar path of disunity and instability like the former Labor government.
Queensland Nationals Senator Matt Canavan said his party is "100 per cent" behind Mr Abbott.
On Facebook last week he said, “The overwhelming feedback I'm getting is that people are sick to the back teeth of our constant fascination with the leadership”.
“Some politicians down here act like every time they have a disagreement with the missus, they file for divorce,” he said.
“We should get over ourselves and just get back to doing our jobs, which is to help make this great country even better.”
NSW Nationals Senator John Williams supported a point made by Mr Abbott last week that the Coalition is not the Labor Party and they “don't change leaders”.
“The Australian people only have that right,” he said.
Queensland Nationals MP George Christensen said as a member of the Federal Parliamentary National Party, he doesn’t get to vote on the Liberal Party leadership.
“However, if the Liberals change their leadership next week, the Nationals will seek a new Coalition agreement and a new deal for rural and regional Australia,” he said.
Tasmanian Liberal senator Eric Abetz said Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop had been a very successful leadership team and retained his support.
“They delivered us the election victory in 2013, they have secured our borders, removed the carbon tax achieved the free trade agreements,” he said.
“They’re the team the people of Australia elected and that’s the team I will be supporting.”
Nationals Leader Warren Truss again deflected questions about his party’s support for Mr Turnbull as a potential Prime Minister due to his views on carbon trading.
“Well, we're not there yet and we need to make sure that we never cross that threshold,” he said.
“The reality is that a government does need to be strong and united.
“I think it's very important that the Liberal Party resolve its leadership issues promptly, that they do it decisively so that the issue can be put behind them and the government and we get on with the business of delivering for the Australian people.”
Nats back Abbott as PM
Mr Truss said the Nationals backed Mr Abbott’s leadership at their planning meeting in Wodonga last week.
“We remain supportive of Tony Abbott and I'm confident that his prime ministership will be renewed,” he said.
“The commitment that we gave to the Governor-General to support the establishment of the new government was to Tony Abbott and that commitment was one that I made on behalf of the Nationals and Tony made on behalf of the Liberal Party.
“So, clearly, if in fact there were to be a change of leadership, well that agreement would no longer be of value and new arrangements would have to be established.
“At this stage, the spill is hardly credible if there's not an alternative candidate.
“The reality is that Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop are standing together as Leader and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party.
“That's a very powerful team.
“There's too much important work to be done to be spent on internal discussions of this nature.
“It's been raised now, it needs to be dealt with promptly and then we need to get on with the job of delivering for the Australian people.
“I don't think Tony Abbott will lose the leadership.”
Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane said he would also be voting against the spill motion and the leadership argument was, “a distraction no one wants and no one needs”.
“Australia doesn’t need this, the Coalition obviously doesn’t need it,” he said.
“We need to get on with business, we need to be making sure that we’re providing the sort of legislative change that keeps our economy strong and keeps jobs growing in Australia.
“The Cabinet is absolutely unanimous in the support of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister. We need to get on with it.
“I haven’t spoken to backbenchers other than those that have rung me, and those that have rung me have not only expressed their total support for Tony Abbott but their complete dismay that the Coalition is being distracted at this important time in a government’s life.
“To my knowledge there is a handful, maybe 10 or 15 people at the bottom of all of this out of a party room of over 100.
“The support for Tony Abbott in the Cabinet is unanimous and we just need to get this behind us and get on with the job.”