Tony Abbott has announced Liberal MPs will vote on Monday night for the leadership and deputy leadership, after Malcolm Turnbull’s challenge to the prime minister’s leadership.
In a brief 6:15pm news conference at which he took no questions, Abbott pitched to his colleagues not to do a repeat of Labor.
“I have been heartened by the messages of support flooding into Liberal MPs’ offices this evening saying most emphatically, ‘we are not the Labor Party’”.
He said Australia needed strong and stable government “and that means avoiding, at all costs, Labor’s revolving-door prime ministership”.
Abbott said he could be trusted to deliver a stronger economy and a safer community.
“The prime ministership of this country is not a prize or a plaything to be demanded. It should be something which is earned by a vote of the Australian people.”
He said he expected to win the ballot.
“Obviously, I am dismayed by the destabilisation thats been taking place now for many, many months and I do say to my fellow Liberals that the destabilisation just has to stop.
"I firmly believe that our party is better than this, that our government is better than this and, by God, that our country is so much better than this.”
Turnbull launched his much-anticipated challenge to Abbott for the prime ministership, declaring he had been urged by “many people over a long period” to do so.
Abbott will fight for his position, with a ballot expected on Monday night.
After confronting the prime minister on Monday afternoon, asking for a Liberal partyroom ballot, and resigning as communications minister, Turnbull told a press conference, “we need a different style of leadership”.
Turnbull said that Abbott “has not been capable of providing the economic leadership our nation needs. He has not been capable of providing the economic confidence business needs”.
In a swingeing attack on Abbott’s style, Turnbull said: “We need advocacy not slogans. We need to respect the intelligence of the Australian people.
"We also need a new style of leadership in the way we deal with others – whether it is our fellow members of parliament, whether it is the Australian people.
"We need to restore traditional cabinet government. There must be an end to policy on the run and captain’s calls.
"We need an open government that recognises that the is an enormous sum of wisdom within our colleagues in this building and, of course, further afield.”
Turnbull invoked John Howard’s government as a “great example of good cabinet government”.
“Few would say that the cabinet government of Mr Abbott bears any similarity to the style of Mr Howard. So that’s what we need to go back to.”
He said if the government continued with Abbott as prime minister, it was clear what would happen – he would lose the election and Bill Shorten would succeed him.
“The one thing that is clear about our current situation is the trajectory. We have lost 30 Newspolls in a row. It is clear that people have made up their mind about Mr Abbott’s leadership.”
The dramatic Turnbull challenge came after tension and destabilisation built over the weekend and during Monday. Liberal deputy leader Julie Bishop went to Abbott before Question Time to tell him that he had lost the party’s confidence.
The leadership has come to a head less than a week out from the Canning byelection, with polls showing the government is set to hold the seat but with a big swing against it.
Turnbull said he recognised the timing was “far from ideal”. “But regrettably, there are few occasions that are entirely ideal for tough calls and tough decisions like this.”
The government was only ten or eleven months from an election and “every month lost is a month of lost opportunities.
"We have to make a change for our country’s sake, for the government’s sake, for the party’s sake.”
He said a change of leadership would improve the Liberals’ chances in Canning.
Turnbull said he was motivated “by a commitment to serve the Australian people to ensure that our Liberal values continue to be translated into good government, sound policies, economic confidence creating the jobs and the prosperity for the future”.
On climate change and same-sex marriage, on which he has well-known moderate views, Turnbull is promising to stick with the announced climate targets for the Paris climate conference and a popular vote promised on same-sex marriage. This is a bid to maximise his vote among right-wingers.
Former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett launched a ferocious attack on Turnbull in a series of tweets, calling him a “selfish, undisciplined individual”.
Although they have no vote, the Nationals met late Monday to discuss the situation.
The Nationals had a somewhat difficult relationship with Turnbull when he was opposition leader.
Nationals deputy leader Barnaby Joyce confirmed that if there were a change of leader the Coalition agreement would have to be renegotiated.