SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, fighting for his political life, said he would bring forward to Monday a meeting of his parliamentary colleagues to consider a challenge to his leadership, in an effort to halt a destabilizing internal revolt.
A member of Abbott’s ruling conservative Liberal Party called on Friday for a secret ballot to decide whether to declare the leadership and deputy leadership positions vacant, to be held at a scheduled meeting on Tuesday.
“It is important to end the uncertainty at the very beginning of the parliamentary sitting week,” Abbott said in a brief statement on Sunday, calling for a meeting early on Monday.
No member of the government has so far indicated a direct challenge to Abbott, although most media attention has focused on Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a former party leader toppled by Abbott.
Abbott has faced a torrent of criticism in recent weeks over policy decisions ranging from his handling of the economy to awarding an Australian knighthood to Queen Elizabeth’s husband, Prince Philip.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, deputy leader of Abbott’s party, has also been touted as a potential successor. She has said she will vote against the motion but has not ruled out standing if the positions are declared vacant.
Opinion polls have consistently shown voters prefer Turnbull to lead the party, but his views on a carbon trading scheme, marriage equality and support for an Australian republic have made him unpopular with the right of the party.
Bishop is well regarded in the party for her performance as foreign minister, particularly for leading Australia’s case at the United Nations following the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine last year.
Removing Abbott would need support from more than 51 of the 102 members of the federal Liberal Party at the party-room vote.
Reporting by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Frances Kerry