Tony Abbott has sacked Chief Government Whip Philip Ruddock in a provocative move just days after holding off a motion to spill his leadership.
Ruddock, a cabinet minister in the Howard government, is Father of the House and will have served 42 years in the parliament this year.
Ruddock said on Friday: “The position I’ve held is in the gift of the leader. Any explanation should come from the prime minister”.
Abbott has been considering Ruddock’s position at least since when he reshuffled his ministry just before Christmas.
Sources close to Abbott said he felt it was time for some renewal of the whips. Abbott gave no reason for the removal in his press release.
Ruddock’s replacement will be Queenslander Scott Buchholz, who previously was one of the two Liberal whips under Ruddock.
Buchholz is described by one colleague as someone good with people who also “can be very tough if he needs to be”.
Andrew Nikolic, an outspoken Abbott supporter in recent days, has been made a whip, while existing whip Nola Marino continues in her role.
Ruddock stood above the battle over the spill motion.
Some sources believe he may not have been seen as enough of a public spruiker or numbers gatherer for Abbott.
The whip is a crucial link between the prime minister and the backbench, both feeding MPs’ views to the leader and ensuring the leader knows what’s happening in the ranks.
Abbott runs the risk that the dismissal of Ruddock will be interpreted as retribution in the wake of Monday’s motion, which was defeated 61-39 in what was widely regarded as a very bad result for Abbott.
One Liberal said the dismissal of Ruddock was not going down well with colleagues.
Another noted that Abbott could sack the veteran Ruddock but would not dismiss his controversial chief of staff, Peta Credlin.
But a third said it was time for Ruddock to move on.
Ruddock travelled on Abbott’s plane during the election campaign. In opposition he was shadow cabinet secretary but was not given the cabinet secretary post in government. In the Howard years he served in immigration and was attorney-general.
Abbott said Ruddock had made an “extraordinary contribution to our country, this government and the Liberal Party”. Later this year he would become the second-longest-serving parliamentarian since federation.
“I look forward to his future contribution to the government and to our country. He remains an important counsellor for Coalition members of parliament.”
Abbott said Buchholz was a strong local member and highly regarded in the party room. Nikolic, elected in 2013, had made “an outstanding start as a member of parliament”, and previously had a distinguished military career, Abbott said.