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Australian PM Abbott defiant as MPs call for his head

04 february 2015, 16:31

 Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was fighting for his job Wednesday after backbenchers publicly called for a Liberal Party leadership challenge following months of tensions stoked by fading poll numbers and policy backflips, AFP reports.

A handful of MPs openly revolted late Tuesday against the conservative leader, whose recent decision to make Britain's Prince Philip a knight helped bring simmering anger to the surface.

But Abbott was quick to hit back Wednesday, brushing aside concerns and vowing to hold steady.

West Australian MP Dennis Jensen was the first to say the prime minister had to go.

"I don't think the leader and his office are listening and communicating effectively," Jensen told ABC television.

"I believe that it is necessary that this is brought to a head and lanced."

Queensland MP Warren Entsch reportedly said "something has got to come to a head" and that he would seek a resolution when Liberal Party MPs and Senators meet on February 10.

Former minister Mal Brough, another Queensland MP, also broke ranks, telling Sky News: "I don't have unequivocal support for the prime minister today."

"The matter needs to be resolved and if Tuesday is the appropriate time for people to talk about it ... then it's for them to say so."

He ruled out challenging Abbott.

Asked on Sydney's 2GB radio if his leadership was "terminal" the prime minister replied: "I am determined to deliver steady, stable, solid, dependable government and that's what I'm going to do, every day."

Abbott described the revolt as just a sign of a "robust" Liberal Party room -- the meeting of all members of the party in both houses of Parliament.

"Everyone in the party room understands... that the last thing we should do is go anywhere near reproducing the rabble of the Labor years," he said, when two prime ministers were ousted under the previous government.

    'They'll throw us out' 

 Abbott has said he would not step down despite severe criticism of his decision to bestow a knighthood on Prince Philip on Australia Day, January 26.

The ridicule that greeted the appointment to the Order of Australia incensed his own MPs -- who were already dealing with plunging poll numbers, policy backflips and an unpopular budget.

Abbott's Liberal-National coalition romped to power in a September 2013 election but now trails the opposition Labor Party 46 to 54 percent, while Abbott's preferred prime minister rating has dived to just 34 percent, a Fairfax-Ipsos poll showed Monday.

Abbott, an avowed monarchist, claims to have learnt his lessons. He has scrapped a controversial paid parental leave scheme criticised as too expensive and said he will not select any knights or dames in the future, but leave it to officials.

Treasurer Joe Hockey led ministers lining up to support Abbott.

He noted there were 102 members in the party room but only a handful had spoken out against Abbott.

Reports in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian suggest 30-40 MPs could back a leadership change, but they would require a party room majority to be successful in removing Abbott.

"The cabinet is unanimous in its support for the prime minister," Hockey told reporters.

He warned Liberals not to become a "carbon copy" of Labor during the tenure of former prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

Rudd was ousted in 2010 in a party room coup by his deputy Gillard, who was in turn herself removed by Rudd in 2013.

"Australia threw them out. They'll throw my colleagues and me out if we are not focused on what is important for the Australian people," Hockey said.

Abbott's deputy Julie Bishop -- tipped as a potential prime minister for her strong performance as foreign minister -- has ruled out a direct challenge to the prime minister.

But she left open the possibility of standing if the party room declares the leadership vacant.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a moderate who lost the leadership to Abbott in 2009 by one vote, would be in a similar position, with his colleagues saying he has no intention of making a challenge.

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