VICTORIAN independent Senator John Madigan says rural communities and voters are fed up with “self-indulgent crap” from successive governments arguing over leadership.
His comments come as news broke of a leadership ballot being moved against Prime Minister Tony Abbott in the Liberal party room next week, when parliament resumes for the first time this year, in Canberra.
Chief Government Whip and Liberal MP Philip Ruddock issued a statement saying he’d received a notice of motion from Western Australian Liberal Luke Simpkins and seconded by colleague Don Randall proposing the Liberal Party Room “resolve, via secret ballot, that the senior positions of the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party be declared vacant”.
“The Prime Minister has indicated this motion will be listed for discussion at the Liberal Party Meeting on Tuesday,” Mr Ruddock said.
Senator Madigan said the move to try and remove Mr Abbott as Prime Minister was “bloody stupid”.
“People make mistakes,” he said. “But people everywhere are fed up with this self-indulgent crap.
“I wish they’d just get on with the job of governing the country – whether it’s the ALP or the Liberals.
“We can’t afford to continue with this self-indulgent crap.”
Senator Madigan has this week been on a tour of communities in the Murray-Darling Basin in NSW and Victoria gauging their thoughts and feelings on the Basin Plan and its threat to irrigated agriculture.
He said Mr Abbott’s leadership of the Coalition was raised by communities who want to see their political leaders deliver good government policy and results, rather than an ongoing focus on personality.
Next week’s ballot arrives after increasing speculation and doubt over Mr Abbott’s leadership credentials, following his awarding of a knighthood to Prince Philip on Australia day.
'We are not the Labor Party'
Mr Abbott warned his colleagues against repeating "the chaos and the instability of the Labor years" in a statement.
"As you know, two of my colleagues have called for a leadership spill of the two senior positions in our Party," he said.
"The first point to make is that they are perfectly entitled to call for this, but the next point to make is that they are asking the Party Room to vote out the people that the electorate voted in in September 2013.
"I want to make this very simple point: we are not the Labor Party. We are not the Labor Party and we are not going to repeat the chaos and the instability of the Labor years.
"So, I have spoken to Deputy Leader Julie Bishop and we will stand together in urging the Party Room to defeat this particular motion, and in so doing, and in defeating this motion to vote in favour of the stability and the team that the people voted for at the election."
Nats could walk, says Joyce
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce warned the Nationals could walk away from the Coalition in the wake of an upcoming spill next Tuesday.
"What I say to my colleagues in the Liberal party is this: we didn't want this. We gave you fair warning," Mr Joyce said.
"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."
Mr Joyce called for the Liberal party to restore stability and said the leadership sideshow was distracting from important issues in regional areas.
"We do not condone chaos - that's what the Australian people voted against at the last election."
Turnbull, Abbott 'cut from the same cloth'
Opposition leader Bill Shorten said the Liberal government was in chaos and key leadership contender and former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull “may have a nicer suit than Tony Abbott”.
“But when it comes to cost of living pressures and cutting a billion dollars from child care, Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott are cut from the same cloth,” he said.
Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has also been touted as a possible replacement but the Nationals have expressed a lack of confidence in Mr Turnbull due to his views on climate change policy and impacts on farmers.
The Nationals have also said the Coalition agreement is between Mr Abbott and party leader Warren Truss and would need to be renegotiated if there was any change of Liberal Leader.
Nationals NSW MP and assistant finance minister Michael McCormack said the leadership of the Liberals was “entirely a matter for them”.
He said the Nationals, as a party yesterday at a planning meeting in Wodonga, Victoria, “again reiterated our support for the current Prime Minister”.
“It’s too early for a change,” he said.
“The public perception of us making a change now would not be good and in the eyes of many we would be seen as being no better than the rabble we replaced and often perception is reality in politics.
“I wish these disaffected Liberals would take a Bex and lie down; they’ve been far too outspoken and far too rebellious.
“Disunity is death in politics and it’s not as if things were that bad that it needed to come to this.”
Mr McCormack said if there was a change of leader “and that’s being really hypothetical", any replacement, including Mr Turnbull, would need to sit down with the National party’s leadership including Mr Truss and deputy-leader Barnaby Joyce for talks “and work through the thing that matter most to us”.
He said those issues included the regions, rural health and agriculture.
“But at the end of the day, if the Liberals go changing their leaders then the Coalition agreement is no longer valid,” he said.
Hockey won't speculate
Liberal Treasurer Joe Hockey pledged his support for Mr Abbott saying, “I’m not getting into speculation about numbers”.
“The only numbers I'm worried about are the Budget numbers, and every single day the Australian government is spending $100 million more than it collects in revenue and the people that are in the way of us actually addressing that structural challenge are the Labor Party, the Greens, the Independents and the Senate,” he said.
“It is clearly unsustainable for Australia to have a government that continues to spend $100 million more than it collects every day.
“Even as I stand, we are spending $40 million today just on the interest on the debt, and the debt is building and building every single day because in order to make up that shortfall of $100 million a day, we have to borrow more money, and that's just for our everyday costs of living as a government.
“So, everyone knows from a childcare centre operator and owner, right through to someone running a family budget, it is unsustainable to continue on a path where you spend more than you collect every single day.”
A test of character
In his speech at the National Press Club on Monday, Mr Abbott conceded that responding to ongoing conjecture about his leadership was now a big test for the government.
“This will be a test of character,” he said.
“Now politicians pass the test when they do what is best for the long-term, not when they give in to short-term fear and make a difficult situation worse. That's the situation.
“Sure, we've had a bad patch, what do you do when you have a bad patch?
“You can buckle down to business or not, but failing to buckle down to business always makes a bad situation worse.
“So that's the conversation that I've had with many of my colleagues.”
But Mr Abbott also admitted his government gave some commitments in the last election campaign that they have not been able to keep, including his promise to not cut the ABC or SBS budgets.
“But I also say - and I think the public understands this - that the situation that we thought we were facing at the time of the election turned out to be different,” he said.
Mr Abbott said heading into the 2013 campaign the then-government said the deficit for that financial year would be $18 billion but in the end was $30b more.
He said not cutting the ABC was, “a commitment that we weren't able to keep - but I think the Australian public understand that when circumstances change sometimes governments have got to adjust to those changing circumstances”.
- with ERIN HANDLEY