Australia PM Abbott faces backbench rebellion

Tony Abbott speaks at the National Press Club on 2 February 2015 in Canberra, Australia Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Tony Abbott says a leadership fight would be repeating Labor's mistakes

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is facing a growing backbench rebellion, with three MPs calling for a vote on his leadership.

One Liberal MP, Dennis Jensen, has publicly called on the prime minister to step down.

Questions over Mr Abbott's leadership have grown amid a popularity slump and a shock defeat for his Liberal-National coalition in the Queensland election.

He has described the leadership wrangle as a sign of a "robust" party.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been suggested as a possible challenger, although she has told fellow cabinet members she is "not campaigning for the job of prime minister".

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has also been suggested as a possible rival, along with Social Services Minister Scott Morrison.

On Tuesday, Mr Jensen called for Mr Abbott to be replaced "as soon as possible", Australia's ABC News reported.

He said that government policy was "not consistent and coherent" and there was "no strategic direction".

Queensland MP Warren Entsch said he wanted to see a "resolution" to the leadership issue at a party meeting next week.

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Image caption Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann says Mr Abbott has strong support in the cabinet

"This speculation has to stop and we need to have a situation where there's a whole-of-government approach," he was quoted by ABC as saying.

His fellow Queensland MP Mal Brough said that although Mr Abbott had his support, he did not have his "unequivocal support" and he also called for the issue to be settled swiftly.

Mr Abbott's approval ratings have fallen below 30% this week, partly in response to his decision to award a knighthood to Queen Elizabeth II's husband Prince Philip.

On Wednesday Mr Abbott described the backbenchers' actions as just a sign of a "robust" Liberal Party.

"We've always had a robust party room, and I hope that will always continue," he told Macquarie Radio.

"What I think everyone in the party room understands is that the last thing we should do is go anywhere near reproducing the rabble of the Labor years."

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told ABC Radio that Mr Abbott had the "strong and unanimous support of the cabinet".

"I believe he has the overwhelming support of the party room," he said, warning his backbench colleagues not to repeat the mistakes of the former Labor government where infighting over the top job eventually cost it dearly in a general election.

Mr Cormann said the backbench needed to get behind the PM and "give him a fair go".

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Image caption Treasurer Joe Hockey echoed the prime minister's calls for stability

Treasurer of Australia Joe Hockey also rallied to Mr Abbott's defence, saying it was only the Canberra press gallery that was obsessed with the leadership.

"You don't try and bring down a prime minister because of a knighthood for Prince Phillip," Mr Hockey told the ABC.

"Even as a republican I think that is absolutely absurd and you don't want to be in a position where you see Australia have its sixth government in eight years. So we need to have stability. The Australian people expect stability."

Mr Abbot's leadership was seen as one of the key factors in the crushing defeat of the coalition in Queensland's state election last Saturday.

On Monday, he confirmed the scrapping of one of his signature policies - a paid parental leave scheme - saying the country currently could not afford it.

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