Defiant Australian PM brings forward leadership challenge

 Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Sunday he will bring forward a party bid to oust him by 24 hours, as the country potentially faced a change in leadership for the fourth time in five years.

Sydney: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Sunday he will bring forward a party bid to oust him by 24 hours, as the country potentially faced a change in leadership for the fourth time in five years.

Abbott has been fighting for his job after poor poll ratings and a series of policy backflips spurred his own conservative Liberal Party MPs to openly attack him, calling for a leadership "spill" on Tuesday.

The motion aims to declare the positions of leader and deputy leader of the party -- currently occupied by Abbott and Deputy Prime Minister Julie Bishop -- vacant so the party room, or members of both houses of parliament, can vote for new candidates.

But a defiant Abbott declared on Sunday he wanted the vote over and done with as soon as possible.

"The last thing Australia needs right now is instability and uncertainty," he told reporters.

"On reflection, and after talking to my colleagues, I`ve decided that the best thing we can do is deal with the spill motion as quickly as possible and put it behind us."

The meeting of the governing Liberal Party will be held on Monday morning, 24 hours before the previously scheduled spill motion, the Australian leader said. 

"The only question for our party is do we want to reduce ourselves to the level of the Labor Party in dragging down a first-term Prime Minister," he added.

Abbott was highly critical of Labor when the party switched leaders twice during its time in power from 2007 to 2013. 

Prime minister Kevin Rudd was ousted by his deputy Julia Gillard in 2010, later returning the favour and storming back to power in 2013 shortly before losing the election to Abbott`s coalition.Abbott`s comments came just hours after Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, seen as one of the main contenders for the prime ministership, broke his silence on the challenge early Sunday.

"I`m in the cabinet, I support the prime minister," Turnbull, who once lost a leadership tussle with Abbott by one vote when the Liberals were in opposition, told a Channel Ten reporter.

"You don`t have to keep on saying that all the time."

But Turnbull did not say if he would stand as a candidate if the spill motion was successful and the leader`s position declared vacant.

Similarly, another potential candidate -- Abbott`s deputy Bishop, who is also the foreign minister -- said last week she would be against a spill but did not add what she would do if the motion was successful.

"I`m talking to my colleagues today," Bishop would only say Sunday when questioned by reporters about her plans.

Abbott`s decision was welcomed by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who said it would provide "a certainty for the party and for the country".

In contrast, backbencher Arthur Sinodinos -- a former assistant treasurer before his resignation late last year -- said he was unhappy.

"I will vote for a spill as that will help precipitate a discussion," Sinodinos told The Sydney Morning Herald.

His views about the move was echoed by some other backbenchers on and off the record to local media Sunday amid frustration that MPs were not being given sufficient time to discuss the challenge.Since being elected in September 2013, Abbott`s government has sealed free trade deals with China, South Korea and Japan.

It killed off controversial carbon and mining taxes brought in by the previous Labor administration and sharply reduced the number of asylum-seeker boats arriving in Australia.

The government announced savings across the board to rein in a growing budget deficit, but critics have slammed some of the measures to cut health and education spending while tightening welfare as too harsh.

Abbott`s leadership has also been criticised for changed positions on several issues, including paid leave for new parents, and for awarding Britain`s Prince Philip a knighthood last month.

An opinion poll published Sunday by News Corporation newspapers found that 55 percent of voters wanted Abbott to stand down as prime minister, with just 35 percent saying he should stay on. Some 10 percent were undecided.

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