Will Tony Abbott have to fall on his sword for knighting Prince Philip?

Mr Abbott’s job is under threat thanks to a revolt by his own backbenchers

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The Independent Online

When Tony Abbott was elected Australian Prime Minister, he promised “stable” and “grown-up” government – and an end to the political soap opera which saw his Labor predecessors, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, repeatedly stab each other in the back.

Barely 18 months on, it is Mr Abbott’s job that is under threat, thanks to a revolt by his own backbenchers, who announced yesterday they will push for a leadership ballot at a meeting in Canberra on Tuesday.

Rumblings of discontent – sparked by broken promises, an unpopular budget and poor polls – have become deafening over the past fortnight, following Mr Abbott’s bizarre decision to knight Prince Philip and a dire election result in Queensland for his conservative Liberal-National Party Coalition.

Adding to the sense of déjà vu, one of his challengers is widely expected to be his deputy and Foreign Affairs Minister, Julie Bishop, whose qualities include a steely gaze often described as a “death stare”. (Ms Gillard was Mr Rudd’s deputy when she overthrew him in 2010.) Also known to covet the top job is Malcolm Turnbull, a wealthy former merchant banker and leading moderate who – in contrast to Mr Abbott – accepts the reality of climate change.


Mr Abbott, though, made plain that he will fight to stay in power. And while allies of Ms Bishop and Mr Turnbull prepared to spend the weekend gauging their support, other ministers backed the status quo, with the Trade Minister, Andrew Robb, warning that a leadership contest will “make us look a bit of a circus”.

Yesterday, the Liberal MP Luke Simpkins announced he would move a motion calling for a ballot. Mr Simpkins is from Western Australia, as is Don Randall, who plans to second the motion. Significantly, Western Australia is also Ms Bishop’s power base.

Ms Bishop has been treading a cautious path. In a carefully worded statement – in which she conspicuously failed to endorse Mr Abbott’s leadership, or condemn the backbench rebels – she said she would oppose Mr Simpkins’s motion in the interests of “cabinet solidarity”. Commentators called it a “bare minimum” show of support.

If the motion is carried, both the leader and deputy’s jobs will become vacant – and at that point Ms Bishop will be free to throw her hat in the ring, Pundits believe that, even if the Prime Minister survives Tuesday’s events, his authority will be fatally wounded – and it will only be a matter of time before enough MPs mass against him.