Australian PM Tony Abbott 'will fight leadership challenge'

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Media captionTony Abbott: "Vote in favour of stability"

Australian PM Tony Abbott has said he and his Liberal party deputy Julie Bishop will "stand together" against a leadership challenge from MPs.

Backbencher Luke Simpkins called the motion for Tuesday, saying it was "time to test the support of the leadership".

Mr Abbott, who came to office promising stability, has faced growing questions about his position in recent weeks.

His party lost recent elections in Queensland and he was ridiculed for giving a knighthood to Prince Phillip.

Ms Bishop, whose position is also being challenged, had been seen as a potential leadership challenger.

In a statement on Friday she said there should be "support for current leadership" in Tuesday's motion, known as a spill.

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

While Mr Turnbull has not yet commented, Mr Morrison told reporters he would not stand for election.

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Analysis: Wendy Frew, Australia editor

Mr Abbott's leadership had been criticised before but his decision on Australia Day to award a knighthood to Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, was a game-changer.

Now, two backbenchers have come forward to lance what former Victorian Premier and Liberal heavyweight Jeff Kennett has likened to a festering boil of discontent with Mr Abbott.

The call for a party room spill on Tuesday by MPs Luke Simpkins and Don Randall has set the hares running. MPs are now furiously phoning each other to count the numbers for the pretenders.

Although Julie Bishop has supported Mr Abbott's stand against the motion, that does not mean she is ruling herself out if the motion passes and goes to a leadership vote.

Leadership spills have failed in the past, however, and Mr Abbott could still survive to see another day.

Profile: Julie Bishop

Profile: Malcolm Turnbull

Where has Tony Abbott gone wrong?

Mr Abbott took office in 2013 promising to end the infighting and instability of the Labor years and reinvigorate the economy.

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Image caption Scott Morrison (L) and Julie Bishop (C) have said they will not challenge Mr Abbott, while Malcolm Turnbull (R) has yet to comment

But he was immediately criticised for slashing spending in areas including universities, and his approval ratings have since plummeted.

He has been forced to scrap several of his key policies, including increasing the direct cost of seeing a GP and a paid parental leave scheme.

But in his email to Liberal MPs, Mr Simpkins said the awarding of a knighthood to Prince Philip "was for many the final proof of a disconnection with the people".

He said it was "time to test the support of the leadership in the party room".

In a brief news conference on Friday, Mr Abbott said MPs were entitled to put the motion forward, but that they were "asking the party room to vote out the people that the electorate voted in".

He said the Liberals were "not going to repeat the chaos and the instability" of the opposition Labor party, which lost office in 2013 after a series of leadership crises.

"So I have spoken to Deputy Leader Julie Bishop and we will stand together in urging the party room to defeat this particular motion and in so doing, and in defeating this motion, to vote in favour of the stability and the team that the people voted for at the election," he said.

Political commentators have said the spill is based on opaque procedures, but in general this is how Tuesday's spill would work:

  • A motion needs to be proposed by one Liberal MP, seconded by another
  • The motion will be debated in the party room
  • If it appears there are more "against" than "for" the motion, the leader may say the motion has failed, and end the debate
  • If the motion passes, candidates will nominate themselves and a secret ballot is taken for a new leader

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