Tony Abbott declared he and his deputy, Julie Bishop, will “stand together” to oppose a motion to spill their positions at next week’s Liberal party meeting.
The prime minister announced his stand-and-fight position in a brief media appearance in which he took no questions.
Earlier, West Australian backbencher Luke Simpkins announced he had submitted a motion to Chief Government Whip Philip Ruddock calling for a spill of the leader and deputy positions. It will be seconded by another WA backbencher, Don Randall, when the party meets on Tuesday.
Simpkins said in the past fortnight he had been “inundated” with emails and people walking in to his electorate office “all questioning the direction the government is being led in”. The knighthood for Prince Philip “was for many the final proof of a disconnection with the people”.
While the two MPs from WA have pulled the trigger, the move against Abbott has the support of a number of backbenchers across the country.
Abbott said that he had spoken to Bishop, “and we will stand together in urging the party room to defeat this particular motion, and in so doing, and in defeating this motion to vote in favour of the stability and the team that the people voted for at the election”.
Bishop’s agreement with Abbott is strictly limited. She hasn’t committed herself to stand by Abbott if the spill motion is passed. She said in a statement to Sky: “I agreed with [the] PM that due to cabinet solidarity and my position as deputy there should be support for the current leadership in the spill motion”.
Abbott said the backbenchers were entitled to call for a spill. “But the next point to make is that they are asking the party room to vote out the people that the electorate voted in in September 2013.
"I want to make this very simple point: we are not the Labor Party … we are not going to repeat the chaos and the instability of the Labor years.”
He said the government had a strong plan that he enunciated at the National Press Club this week, “and we are determined to get on with it – and we will”.
Simpkins, the member for Cowan, said that the matter must be brought to a head and support for the leadership tested. He said the spill motion should be by a secret ballot.
Whether there will be a secret ballot or a show of hands is a matter for the leader and Abbott did not indicate a position.
Ruddock said the party had no written rules. “It’s really a matter for the leader to determine. On the last occasion, Malcolm Turnbull, when he was the subject of a motion, asked John Howard for some counsel … John said, as I recall, ‘It can be a show of hands.’ Malcolm determined it would be a secret ballot.”
Simpkins said he had no frontbench ambitions. “I just want to make sure that the economic vandals do not get back into power and our children and grandchildren are not left to pay Labor’s bill. I do this because I believe it is in the best interests of the people of our country.”
Simpkins told his colleagues his move “gives you all an opportunity to either endorse the prime minister or to seek a new direction”.
Former Liberal MP Ross Cameron, a close friend of Abbott, said he could not bring himself to say that the Abbott prime ministership was capable of rehabilitation. “It is over.” He said the party should go to Turnbull.
Earlier, Abbott had said on radio that he did not expect a motion for a spill. “I’m expecting business as usual.”
Ministers publicly rallied against the spill. Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he was confident the motion would be defeated. There was strong support for the prime minister, he said. “The Liberal Party has never ever thrown out a prime minister in their first term.”
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said he would urge all his colleagues to vote against the motion. He had not been aware of it beforehand.
Cormann said he believed Abbott and Bishop enjoyed the “overwhelming support” of the party room. A vote against the spill motion would be a vote of confidence in Abbott and Bishop, he said.
Defence Minister Kevin Andrews strongly opposed the motion. He said he was confident it would be defeated.
Tasmanian Liberal MP Andrew Nikolic accused his colleagues moving the spill of “repeating the ill-disciplined and self-interested behaviours that the Australian people explicitly rejected in 2013”.
Before the spill motion was flagged, Bishop refused to be drawn on giving any advice to MPs contemplating such a move. “I don’t have any advice to my colleagues because they are elected members of parliament and they will take whatever action they see fit,” she said.
Scott Morrison said he would not be a candidate in any leadership ballot.