SYDNEY (AFP) - Defiant Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday said he was "very confident" he will still be in charge next week after a top Liberal figure fuelled speculation he may be toppled.
Mr Abbott has been under growing pressure following months of fading poll numbers and policy backflips, which was brought to a head by his decision to make Britain's Prince Philip a knight late last month.
A handful of MPs openly revolted late on Tuesday against the conservative leader and they have been joined by former assistant treasurer Arthur Sinodinos, the most senior figure to intervene.
Mr Sinodinos, widely respected as a political strategist, said his support for Mr Abbott was no longer unconditional and that the leadership chatter was "not just media hype". Asked by Sky News if Mr Abbott would be leader next week, he said: "Comrade, come and ask me next week."
The Liberal party room - the meeting of all members of the party in both houses of Parliament - convenes for the first time this year next Tuesday, the earliest opportunity for a leadership ballot.
But Mr Abbott said on Thursday he trusted his colleagues would back his leadership when asked he expected to still be leader next week.
"I am very confident, I am very confident," he said.
"I know my colleagues, I trust my colleagues, I respect my colleagues, I know my colleagues all got elected to end the chaos and they are determined as I am to make sure that's exactly what we do."
He urged the government to end the speculation and focus on the Australian people.
"I am doing what the public elected me and elected the government to do, cleaning up Labor's mess, rebuilding a strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia.
"That's what I am doing, every day, and that I believe is what my colleagues want to do."
While Fairfax Media said it understood other MPs were preparing to enter the fray and publicly call for change, The Australian broadsheet said momentum for a leadership challenge was losing steam at the realisation that there was no firm contender to replace Mr Abbott.
The two favourites, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, have both insisted they are not looking to drum up support for a spill.
There are 102 members in the party room and a majority is required to be successful in removing Mr Abbott.
Reports suggest anywhere between 15 to 30 are agitating for change.
The ruling Liberal-National coalition romped to power in a September 2013 election, but polls this week show it now trails the opposition Labor Party 46 per cent to 54 per cent.
Mr Abbott's preferred prime minister rating has dived to just 34 per cent.