Australian prime minister faces challenge to leadership

AP News
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Posted: Feb 06, 2015 12:01 AM
Australian prime minister faces challenge to leadership

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Friday that he and his deputy will urge the ruling party to reject calls to hold a leadership ballot next week that could potentially oust them.

Lawmaker Luke Simpkins said in an email to colleagues that he will move a motion at a ruling Liberal Party meeting on Tuesday calling for Abbott to declare that his job and that of his deputy Julie Bishop are open to a ballot of 102 government lawmakers.

Abbott said he and Bishop, the foreign minister, would urge the meeting to reject the motion. He said that Australians had voted out the chaotic and divided center-left Labor Party government in 2013 because it had changed its prime minister twice in four years.

"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," Abbott told reporters.

"We are not the Labor Party and we are not going to repeat the chaos and the instability of the Labor years," he added.

If the motion is passed, it is not yet clear whether any lawmaker will be nominated to run against Abbott or his foreign minister.

Halfway through his first three-year term as prime minister, Abbott had been under increasing pressure over poor showings in opinion polls.

Public dislike of Abbott is blamed in part for conservative governments suffering big election losses in Victoria state in November and Queensland state in January.

He has also been widely criticized for making Queen Elizabeth II's husband, Prince Philip, an Australian knight on Australia's national day last month.

Simpkins said in an email to party colleagues the knighthood for Prince Philip was "the final proof of a disconnection with the people."

"I think we must bring this to a head and test the support of the leadership in the party room," he wrote.

Bishop and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull have been touted as potential replacements for Abbott.

While both have made public statements of support for Abbott, they can now sound out supporters from within government ranks now that the ballot is officially on the meeting agenda.

Other government lawmakers spoke out in support of Abbott. Andrew Nikolic told colleagues in an email that the challenge was the "ill-disciplined and self-interested behaviors that the Australian people explicitly rejected in 2013."

"Your actions are disappointing and divisive," Nikolic told Simpkins in an email copied to other Liberal lawmakers. "You do not have my support for this."

Government lawmaker Dennis Jensen, who like Simpkins is from Western Australia state, on Tuesday became the first to publicly state he had lost confidence in Abbott.

Colleague Sharman Stone said earlier Friday that the growing leadership crisis needed to be resolved next week when parliament sits for the first time this year.

"If Tony gets through this, we've got to get behind Tony," she said.

"If someone else does, that's our leader and we get behind that person, and we diminish the prospect of having Labor back in because that would be totally catastrophic," she said.