Embattled Australia PM Tony Abbott says party challenge to oust him will fail

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaking during a press conference in Sydney on Feb 6, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP
Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaking during a press conference in Sydney on Feb 6, 2015. -- PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Saturday that he expected a challenge against his leadership to fail, and stressed that his government would not repeat the "chaos and instability" of previous administrations.

With dismal ratings in opinion polls and a backbench disgruntled by policy backflips, two of Mr Abbott's MPs have said they will call for a challenge to his stewardship of the nation at a meeting of the governing Liberal Party on Tuesday.

But the conservative leader said he was expecting the so-called "spill motion", aimed at removing him and deputy Julie Bishop from their positions, to fail. "Should this spill motion be defeated, as I expect, I will be taking that as a strong endorsement of the existing leadership team, as a vote of confidence in the existing leadership team," Mr Abbott told reporters in Townsville. "The last thing any of us should want to do is to reproduce the chaos and the instability of the Labor years."

Labor switched prime ministers twice in their last turn in government, first in 2010 when Ms Julia Gillard removed then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in a party room coup, and then in 2013, when they changed back to Mr Rudd. "We are not Labor... and this "Game of Thrones" circus which the Labor Party gave us is never going to be reproduced by this coalition," Mr Abbott said, in reference to the medieval fantasy drama in which characters vie for power.

Mr Abbott said the two Liberal backbenchers who had called for the challenge to his leadership were entitled to do so.

But he said the "spill" motion, which if successful would remove him and Ms Bishop from their roles and trigger a new vote among Liberal Party parliamentarians for those positions, would likely fail.

Mr Abbott successfully ousted the centre-left Labor government from power in the September 2013 elections.

But his leadership has been under pressure following an unpopular Budget and has changed positions on several issues, including paid leave for new parents.

It was his decision to award Britain's Prince Philip a knighthood on Australia Day late last month, which unleashed ridicule and left even supporters questioning his judgement.

The Prime Minister said on Saturday he was not bogged down by the leadership speculation.

"Despite some distractions, I am just getting on with government," he told reporters.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, widely seen as a possible contender for the top job, on Saturday said she would not support a challenge to Mr Abbott's leadership.

"I understand from my colleagues that they look to me for stability and certainty," she told reporters.

"My role as deputy is to support the leader, not to change the leader and I don't support a spill motion."