Australian PM Abbott bats away speculation of leadership takeover

SYDNEY (AFP) - Embattled Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Friday dismissed heated speculation he will be dumped by his conservative colleagues, saying he expected to lead his party to the next election.

After reports that Mr Abbott may not survive another challenge to his leadership, the prime minister was asked whether he expected to be in his job by the end of next week. "Other people can obsess about this kind of insider gossip, but I'm certainly not going to," he said, stressing that voters should make the decision on who runs the country. "I was elected to be prime minister. The government was elected to govern the country.

"The people expect the government and the prime minister they elect to go forward doing the job that we were elected to do, and then to submit ourselves to their judgement at the next election. And that's certainly what I expect to be doing."

Mr Abbott survived a leadership challenge earlier this month after poor polling, policy backflips and an unpopular budget generated a backbencher revolt, fuelled by questions about the prime minister's judgement.

A vote on whether there should be a leadership contest was defeated 61 to 39 and no challenger emerged, with Mr Abbott thought to have a clear run until after the May Budget to boost polls in which the government is trailing the Labor opposition.

The next national election, which must be held by mid-January 2017, is expected to be called some time next year.

But speculation is mounting that colleagues will turn against Mr Abbott before then, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that some ministers believe Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has the numbers to win a challenge.

It follows a week in which damaging Liberal Party e-mail messages were leaked to the media detailing internal animosities, and Mr Abbott drew criticism for his attack on Australia's Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs.

Mr Turnbull refused to fuel "this continued speculation about the Liberal Party leadership".

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop also dismissed as speculation a question on whether she would like to be prime minister.

Social Services Minister Scott Morrison, another strong performer and possible contender, said he was "perplexed" by the latest leadership reports.

"Nothing has changed over the past couple of weeks," he told commercial radio. "I think what we're hearing is a bit of political bedwetting by some."

Mr Abbott, who is en route to New Zealand to meet with counterpart John Key, said he was getting on with the job of government.

"I'm not going to be distracted and none of my ministers are going to be distracted," he said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.