CANBERRA – Prime Minister Tony Abbott has stressed he is only “worried about being the best possible Prime Minister” as speculation of an imminent leadership challenge mounts.
Abbott has declared he does not intend to call a snap election to stave off a leadership coup, rather he plans to serve a full term to the middle of next year.
Poor polls, prominent gaffes and plotting by unnamed senior ministers against Abbott have again renewed the leadership talk, dismissed by the Prime Minister as “Canberra insider gossip.”
“Other people can play Canberra games,” he told reporters in Adelaide.
“The public don't like this insider gossip. The public don't like the Canberra games and as far as I'm concerned, I'm never going to play them.”
This weekend’s Canning by-election is being widely seen as a crucial electoral and leadership test for Abbott, with opinion polls including today’s Fairfax-Ipsos poll, pointing to a narrow win for the Government.
Many senior Liberals, including staunch Abbott supporters now believe a challenge is inevitable, regardless of the Canning result.
One Minister told the ABC, "I think this time they'll get him".
That’s a reference to the backbench revolt that led to a failed leadership spill motion against Abbott in February. It was voted down 61-to-39 without a declared challenger.
Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull was urged on Friday by party whip, Andrew Nikolic to declare his position and support for the Prime Minister, but he has refused to do so, saying it is preferable to say nothing.
Some Abbott supporters have reportedly shifted to Turnbull and there has been speculation the Prime Minister will call an early double dissolution election to stave off a leadership spill.
This is turn, has plotters pondering a challenge this week to head off a possible early poll.
Country almost ungovernable with any Senate majority impossible for either side to execute. Bilateral agreement to change urgent if unlikely— Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) September 3, 2015
News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch recently called for a snap poll and Channel 9 has reported that Abbott informed Murdoch of a plan to call a double dissolution election, as soon as possible after the Canning poll.
Abbott has refused to comment on the speculation, saying he is only “worried about being the best possible Prime Minister.”
“I expect that the government will go to the middle of next year and maybe a bit beyond, because that's what we were elected to do.”
Another possible leadership aspirant, Social Services Minister Scott Morrison, has denied being involved in any leadership plotting.
“When you're not engaged in that sort of nonsense, people don't talk to you about that sort of nonsense, other than in press conferences like this,” he told reporters in Canberra.
Morrison said the Prime Minister has the majority support of the Liberal party room.
Asked on Macquarie radio if Turnbull should rule out a challenge he said, “I haven’t seen him doing anything. He hasn’t said anything to me.”
Last Friday, Abbott declared a News Corp story about a major Cabinet reshuffle was "wrong."
The Daily Telegraph reported that Abbott has six Ministers in the firing line, including long-term Howard-era ministers, Defence Minister Kevin Andrews, Employment Minister Eric Abetz, Trade Minister Andrew Robb and Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane.