Australian PM Tony Abbott faces leadership challenge

Prime Minister Tony Abbott prepares to speak at the National Press Club on February 2 in Canberra, Australia.

Story highlights

  • Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott faces a leadership challenge
  • A member of his ruling party says he will seek on Tuesday to declare vacant the country's top job
  • Abbott says he and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop stand united

Sydney, Australia (CNN)It's on. And it even has its own twitter hashtag, #itson.

After a week of torrid speculation about the future of the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a member of his ruling Liberal Party says he will seek a motion on Tuesday to declare the country's top job vacant.
    Western Australian lawmaker Luke Simpkins says Australians have stopped listening to Abbott and if no one's listening, Abbott can't lead the party.
    If Tuesday's vote is successful, then a call will be made for nominations for the position of prime minister and deputy leader of the Liberal Party.
    The prime minister however is defiant.
    In a bombshell announcement, Abbott declared he and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, the deputy leader of Abbott's party, stand united and will urge the party not to declare their positions vacant.
    Bishop has been widely tipped to be a possible aspirant for the top job.
    "We are not the Labor Party," Abbott told a hastily convened media conference, in a reference to the turmoil between 2010 and 2013 when the then ruling Labor Party ousted two leaders amid unseemly leaks and constant threat of leadership change.
    "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 partyroom [party] to defeat this particular motion and in so doing, and in defeating this motion, to vote in favor of the stability and the team that the people voted for at the election."
    Abbott's insistence that the people elected him has angered some in his party.

    Tipping point

    Under the Westminster system to which Australia adheres, Abbott holds the prime ministership by the vote of his colleagues.
    And a growing chorus of them has been rattled by what they see as a series of poor decisions, back flipping on policies, broken promises and the government's failure to sell an austerity budget widely seen as hitting the poorest harder than the wealthy.
    The bizarre honoring of the Queen's husband, Prince Philip as a Knight of Australia on Australia Day, the country's national celebration of its independent identity, was the tipping point.
    But cabinet ministers have been lining up to publicly support the prime minister over the past week. Those who've spoken since the leadership challenge was announced, say they will be voting against declaring the top leadership posts vacant.


    Untested and critical will be the views of the government's backbench where the parliamentary revolt started.
    The position of deputy party leader and foreign minister Bishop remains murky.
    Throughout the week, she has declared her support for Abbott. However, she hasn't declared whether she would be a contender for his job if the position were to be declared open.
    Indeed, even when declaring she would vote against the leadership challenge, she did so on technical grounds.
    "I agree with the PM that due to cabinet solidarity and my position as deputy...There should be support for the current leadership in a spill motion," she said in a statement.
    There was speculation during the week that Bishop would stand on a unity ticket with Communications Minister and former opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull.
    A man with enormous ambition, Turnbull was ousted from the party's leadership in 2009.
    A climate change believer and supporter of same sex marriage, Turnbull is a hugely popular figure in the so-called "latte sipping" strata of Australian society and in particular amongst voters who traditionally vote for the opposition Australian Labor Party.
    Whilst Turnbull has said he supports Abbott, he has not ruled out standing for the position in the event of a leadership challenge.


    Undoubtedly, the phones will be furiously worked over the weekend. Both Turnbull and Bishop will be testing the waters.
    In the meantime, government members will be weighing whether the effort is worth the risk. Ringing in their ears might be the words of the Trade Minister Andrew Robb.
    "I think it's totally unnecessary and it will make us look like a bit of a circus frankly," he said.
    Since federation, Australia has experienced six party room coups that have toppled the prime minister. If Abbott's head rolls, he will have been in power for the shortest period of them all.