Following the stunning election result in Queensland, the Prince Philip fiasco, and his uninspiring effort at the National Press Club, it’s looking like it might just be Tony Abbott’s time to go. With the latest polls showing Labor ahead 54-46 in two-party preferred terms and the Prime Minister running third as preferred Liberal leader, the natives are getting restless. Several Liberal MPs have already come out in favour of a spill, and as a leadership challenge grows more likely it’s becoming a little clearer who does and who doesn’t support the Prime Minister. Some sources are claiming there’s as many as 30 Liberal MPs ready to move against Abbott, although 51 are needed to force a spill.
With many suggesting a challenge could be mounted as early as this week, Crikey thought we’d run the numbers on what we know so far.
Support the current leader: 12
Cabinet members Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison and Julie Bishop have ruled out challenging Abbott’s leadership. “I am not campaigning for the job of prime minister,” Bishop told Sky News. “I am not ringing the backbenchers and seeking their support. I will not challenge.” Joe Hockey has warned against a spill, as have backbenchers Andrew Nikolic and Angus Taylor. Christopher Pyne gave Abbott his full support, as did Victorian MP and parliamentary secretary Alan Tudge. Senior minister Ian MacFarlane thinks the party “need[s] to get on with the job at hand”, while Eric Abetz claims Abbott has “the overwhelming support of the party room”. While critical of the government’s direction, Queensland Senator Ian Macdonald is reportedly against a spill. Peter Dutton has asked for Abbott to get a “fair go” and claimed the PM had the cabinet’s full support — if he’s telling the truth, it significantly boosts the number of Abbott’s supporters.
Qualified support: 3
NSW Senator Arthur Sinodinos is the most senior Liberal to question Abbott’s leadership. His support of Abbott is “not unconditional”, he told SkyNews on Wednesday. Senior minister Andrew Robb also offered Abbott his support, but only on a conditional basis. “The dropping of surprises has meant we are not in the political position we should be and backbenchers, quite legitimately I think, are saying these things need to be addressed,” he said. We’re putting Mal Brough in this column too, as he has offered his support to Abbott, but not unequivocally. He has also ruled out a leadership challenge.
No support: 2
Dennis Jensen was the first to break ranks and announce he no longer supported Abbott. Jensen claims to have texted Abbott two weeks ago to personally notify him. Jensen told the ABC Abbott was an outstanding opposition leader who had struggled to make the transition to government. “There is no strategic direction, the policy is not consistent and coherent,” Jensen said. “He is not focused on policy. He is not focused on strategic direction. He is focused more on tactics and tactical policy.” Warren Entsch is publicly calling for a spill to end the leadership speculation, and told The Australian he no longer supported the Prime Minister. “Something has got to come to a head. I’ll be certainly looking forward to getting some sort of resolution in the next week,” he said.
That leaves 85 Liberal and LNP members who are undecided, or have simply chosen not to make their views public. Some, however, have aired grievances: Karen McNamara wants the instability sorted out quickly, while Queensland MP Bert Van Manen has said the government has to change the way it engages with the electorate.
The next party room meeting is scheduled for February 10, and you can bet the potential challengers are doing the numbers. While a successful challenge is extremely unlikely for now, it seems Abbott has limited time to turn the tables for his government.
*Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Dennis Jensen was from Queensland. He is from Western Australia.