Mon, Feb 09, 2015 - Page 5 News List

Abbott advances leadership vote to today

MOMENT OF TRUTH?Australian Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull gave a hint that he might take on embattled Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott

Reuters, SYDNEY

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, fighting for his political life, said he would bring forward to today a meeting of his ruling party in which it is to consider a challenge to his leadership in an effort to halt a destabilizing internal revolt.

A member of Abbott’s conservative Liberal Party on Friday called for a secret ballot to decide whether to declare the leadership and deputy leadership positions vacant, to be held at a scheduled meeting tomorrow.

However, Abbott said the meeting would be brought forward by a day.

“It is important to end the uncertainty at the very beginning of the parliamentary sitting week,” Abbott said in a brief statement.

Abbott has faced criticism in recent weeks over policy decisions ranging from his handling of Australia’s economy to awarding an Australian knighthood to Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, Prince Philip.

No member of the government has so far indicated a challenge to Abbott, although most attention has focused on Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull, a former party leader.

Turnbull has not yet said he would challenge Abbott, but yesterday gave the strongest signal yet that he would run.

“If for whatever reason, the leadership of a political party is vacant, then any member of the party can stand ... without any disloyalty to the person whose leadership has been declared vacant,” Turnbull told reporters in Sydney.

Abbott has acknowledged mistakes as pressure intensified on his leadership in recent weeks, and vowed to be more “collegial” and “consultative” in his approach after several of his so-called “captain’s calls” backfired.

Political analysts said Abbott’s move to bring forward the vote on his leadership would give any challenger less time to accumulate support from colleagues, who are to return to the nation’s capital, Canberra, for parliament today.

“My reading of this is that there is very strong support behind the prime minister [and] that it has strengthened,” conservative columnist Nick Cater said.

However, the move appeared to backfire with at least some. Australian Senator Arthur Sinodinos — chief of staff for Abbott’s mentor, former Australian prime minister John Howard — and MP Teresa Gambaro were scathing in their criticism of the decision.

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