Australian PM Abbott survives leadership challenge

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Media captionPhil Mercer: Speculation remains over Mr Abbott's future

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has urged an end to disunity after surviving a party confidence vote on his leadership.

Liberal Party MPs voted by 61 to 39 not to open up his position to challengers.

The leadership test, initiated by a backbencher on Friday, came after a series of policy mis-steps by Mr Abbott that saw his popularity tumble.

But the prime minister said the issue had now been settled, stating "this matter is behind us".

"When you elect a government, when you elect a prime minister, you deserve to keep that government and that prime minister until you have a chance to change your mind," he said.

"So the focus now is once more on jobs, families, a stronger economy and a secure nation."

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Media captionAustralia's history of political oustings - in 60 seconds

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull had been seen as a likely leadership challenger if the vote passed, but in the end more party lawmakers rallied round the prime minister.

In a subsequent press conference Mr Abbott accepted that recent weeks had been difficult.

"We have looked over the precipice and we have decided not to go down the Labor Party path of a damaged, divided and dysfunctional government which votes no confidence in itself," he said.

He promised to hold regular meetings with chairs of backbench committees and admitted that last year's budget - which proved highly unpopular with voters - was too much, too soon.

"With the wisdom of hindsight it was perhaps too bold and too ambitious," he said, promising no new proposals on the public health system that did not have the broad backing of the medical profession.

Analysis: Wendy Frew, Australia editor, BBC News online

Tony Abbott has survived a crucial test of his leadership but this may not be the end of the matter.

He faces a divided party room, with the vote - 61 against the motion and 39 for - closer than it looks. His cabinet colleagues would have felt bound by a convention of loyalty to the prime minister rather than voting as they saw fit.

Then there's the public. A Newspoll published before the ballot showed Mr Abbott's approval rating at its lowest. Only 24% of voters are happy with him.

The prime minister now needs to convince his party and the public that he will set a clear course for the government, and consult his colleagues about policy rather than indulging in his now infamous "captain's picks", such as controversial knighthoods.

One group undoubtedly happy with the result is the opposition Labor Party, which will be hoping Mr Abbott will continue to struggle with his party and the polls.

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Image caption Mr Abbott's policies on universities and healthcare have alienated some voters
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Image caption Malcolm Turnbull is more popular with the electorate in general, polls show

'Chance to move forward'

Mr Abbott had earlier pledged to fight any challenge, saying his party would not "repeat the chaos" of the opposition Labor party, which lost office in 2013 after a series of leadership crises.

But the conservative leader has faced severe criticism in recent weeks for giving an Australian knighthood to Queen Elizabeth's husband, Prince Philip.

His party also suffered a comprehensive defeat in Queensland state elections, which many attributed to dissatisfaction with the prime minister.

Several of his policies, such as a controversial GP payment plan and a change to university funding, had alienated voters.

The West Australian backbencher who initiated the leadership test, Luke Simpkins, told journalists the party had given Mr Abbott an opportunity to "change his approach".

"He should be given that chance to move forward," said Mr Simpkins.

But analysts say Mr Abbott remains far from secure, given the number of MPs who voted against him.

On Monday morning, a poll published in The Australian newspaper put satisfaction with his performance down at 24%. The poll also showed the ruling Liberal-National coalition behind Labor by 43% to 57%.

Malcolm Turnbull is preferred over Mr Abbott by voters across the political spectrum but trails him in terms of support from Liberal voters.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten, meanwhile, described Mr Abbott's government as "in paralysis".

"Tony Abbott promised he would run a stable and united government. This is his biggest broken promise yet," the Labor leader said.

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