Leadership speculation at fever pitch
as Arthur Sinodinos calls PM's judgment into question
February 5, 2015 - 5:50AM
Mark Kenny, James Massola
Leadership speculation at fever pitch as Arthur Sinodinos calls PM's judgment
Senior Liberal's support for Abbott 'not unconditional'
Arthur Sinodinos, says his support of Tony Abbott is based on whether he can fix
serious problems within government that have turned off voters.
Malcolm Turnbull has denied telephoning Liberals to canvass their support as
former minister Arthur Sinodinos became the most senior Liberal yet to question
the judgment of Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Mr Sinodinos, a former Abbott loyalist, described his support for the stricken
leader as "ongoing" (but) "not unconditional" on Sky News.
Asked if Mr Abbott would be prime minister next week, Senator Sinodinos replied:
"Comrade, ask me next week."
Liberals viewed that intervention as crucial with one calling it "extremely
"Arthur's comment makes it more much more serious," said another senior Liberal.
"People will now look around to see if someone is starting to count for an
Malcolm Turnbull arrives at Parliament House on Wednesday. Photo:
Amid feverish speculation over the leadership, unconfirmed reports also claimed
Mr Turnbull had moved to assuage fears in the conservative wing of the party
that his return to the leadership would see a reprise of the carbon tax or an
emissions trading scheme.
It was claimed Mr Turnbull had promised, in a secret deal, that there would be
no such reprise if elected.
Senator Sinodinos said Mr Abbott should look beyond his own communication
failures to poorly designed policies such as the Medicare co-payment, arguing
the proposed six-month consultation period in the repackaged policy was "far too
long on an issue that should have been settled last year".
The NSW senator, who is widely respected as a political strategist, said it was
not just the failed sales job on some policies but the policies themselves that
might need to be dropped.
Senator Sinodinos was also equivocal on whether a spill would help the Liberal
Party's situation saying he didn't "know what is on offer".
"Come back to me if and when anybody puts their hand up, that's the best I can
Mr Turnbull's denial of canvassing came after reports began circulating on
Wednesday that the former leader and now Communications Minister had rung two
colleagues to assess their attitude as part of a support gathering exercise
ahead of a challenge.
The public skirmish was a sign of the febrile atmosphere in the Liberal Party
with suspicion running high among ministers and backbenchers said to be
exchanging views and engaging in abuse.
Liberal sources continued to offer conflicting accounts of the party-room
numbers with proponents of change claiming as many as 30 to 40 MPs in favour of
dumping Mr Abbott while Abbott loyalists scoffed at such suggestions, branding
them "wild exaggerations designed to build momentum".
Treasurer Joe Hockey told Network Ten's The
Project on Wednesday night that
there would not be a spill.
"There is an unbelievable amount of gossip around this building. Often it is
unsourced. I must say, I mean, at various points I felt like I'm a Hollywood
reporter reporting on gossip in Canberra," he said.
"The difference between Canberra and Hollywood is there's, thankfully, no
naughty stuff going on here.
"There won't be a spill. There is no candidate. All the potential candidates
have said they're not participating in any of this.
"It is, sadly, a legacy of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years and what's happened over
the last few years.
"We don't want to have six governments in eight years. We want to stabilise
Fairfax Media understands another MP is preparing to enter the fray with a
public call for a change, thereby ratcheting up the pressure on Mr Abbott to
grant a spill of the leadership at Tuesday's crucial first party room meeting of
Mr Abbott again used a public forum, this time a televised radio interview ahead
a of a second cabinet meeting in two days, to call for an end to "navel gazing".
"The last thing we should do is go anywhere near reproducing the rabble of the
Labor years," he said.
As the Liberal Party's leadership crisis deepened on Wednesday, with claim and
counter-claim and rumour flying about, several MPs predicted new calls would
emerge from the backbench within the next 24 hours.
There were also suggestions from MPs agitating for change that a so-called
"rapid-reaction" unit had been set up in the Prime Minister's office to target
and dig dirt on MPs who had come out publicly to criticise Mr Abbott, however
that has been emphatically denied by Mr Abbott's office.
Several MPs also told Fairfax Media that newer MPs were being threatened that if
a leadership vote went ahead, they would be forced to raise their hands and show
who they supported in the party room, rather than having a secret ballot.
One MP said the strategy of malcontents appeared to be to not target Mr Abbott
personally - as he is well liked within the party - but to highlight policy
failures, which were responsible for the government's woes.
A second MP said a consensus already existed that the leadership issue "had to
be brought to a head".
"A hell of a lot will happen between now and next Tuesday," the MP said.
Education Minister Christopher Pyne, who said he had personally sought Mr
Turnbull's assurance that he was not canvassing support, also revealed deputy
leader and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had felt offended and insulted by
Tuesday's demands from another minister that she publicly affirm her loyalty to
In an interview with Fairfax Media's The
Australian Financial Review, Ms Bishop explained her response to the call
from Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane that she declare her intentions.
"I should not be called upon to rule out what I'm clearly not doing," she said.
"I said to the PM yesterday that I am not campaigning for his job, I am not
ringing the backbench seeking support, I am not counting numbers. I support the
leader, PM Tony Abbott.
"Tony Abbott is the leader, Tony Abbott is the PM, so I am supporting him."
It was a comment she repeated at a speech at the ANU on Wednesday evening.
When asked whether she would nominate in the event of a spill, she said: "Oh
please - I'm not dealing in hypotheticals, I deal in reality."
"I am overjoyed being the Foreign Minister ... This is the job that I coveted
coming into politics. I am living my dream."
LIBERAL LEADERSHIP - THE FORM GUIDE
Judith Ireland sorts the favourites from the also-rans
The Foreign Minister has been the shiny star of the government's wonky first 16
months. Her job has taken her out of the trickier domestic fray, but she has not
put a major foot wrong.
The long-time deputy (to three Liberal leaders now) is liked by her colleagues,
who appreciate the time she puts in to talk to them and listen to their concerns
(unlike some people ...).
She is confident, she is tough, she has a sense of humour.
Despite holding portfolios such as education and ageing in the Howard
government, Bishop is not seen to be as strong on domestic issues, particularly
economic ones. She was unimpressive in the shadow treasury portfolio under
Bishop also runs the risk of being viewed as too "small-l" liberal. She is a
republican, after all.
Since he lost the Liberal leadership to Abbott by one vote in 2009 there have
been hopes that Turnbull would be back one day.
He has a broad range of experiences and successes outside Parliament, from
journalism to law and banking, and has a strong national profile.
Turnbull is also super well-connected, smart, capable and the best speech-maker
in the Parliament.
He consistently polls as the most popular alternative to Abbott.
Turnbull is very popular among Labor voters. On his own side, he struggles.
People still remember his disastrous leadership of the Liberal Party from
2008-09. Colleagues have not forgotten that he did not treat them very nicely
and some swear they will not go back there.
If you're a big fan of same-sex marriage, climate action and ditching the Queen,
just remember that Turnbull would still be constrained by what his party will
allow him to do.
As Immigration Minister, Morrison oversaw one of the government's legitimate
successes, getting an internal tick as the man who headed up Operation Stop the
On his own side, people see him as an effective communicator who can deal with
He's ambitious enough to have been sidelined by Abbott in the recent reshuffle
to the hard yakka of Social Services.
Elected to Parliament in 2007, Morrison does not enjoy the public profile of
Bishop and Turnbull. He also does not have huge experience – until the
reshuffle, he had only had the one ministry.
In opinion polls, Morrison never features as a contender in the public's mind.
He was the main contender a year ago.
Then the budget, cigars, his book and "poor people don't drive" happened.
You are joking, aren't you?
LEADER VOTE - HOW IT WOULD HAPPEN
Where would a leadership vote happen?
In a Liberal party–room meeting.
How does a meeting get organised?
They usually happen every Tuesday morning in a sitting week. Officially they
are scheduled by the Prime Minister's Office. The next one is due on February
How could leadership come up?
An MP could move a spill motion from the floor. If it is seconded, then it
would go to a vote.
Who would run the ballot?
Chief whip Philip Ruddock would run it. If successful, this would pave the
way for subsequent voting for the leadership.
Who gets to vote?
The Liberal Party has 102 MPs in the House of Representatives and the
Senate, which means 52 votes are needed for a majority.
This 102 figure includes the 17 Queensland Liberal National MPs. There are six
other LNP MPs who are not included because they caucus with the National Party.
With Dan Harrison
Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre
With one rare exception, the Liberals are handling the issue a hell of lot
better than labour did. Tony Abbott's ethics and honesty, cannot be faulted when
compared to that offered by labour. He is an individual who is not perfect, and
has recently made some mistakes that are unfortunately too similar to that of
Kevin Rudd the narcissist.
Tony Abbott in the last week has had many opportunities to start singing the
songs he needs to sing in order to show a genuine change in attitude. Rather
than accept personal responsibility for his actions, he uses the WE this and WE
that while failing to stick to his guns on those policy decisions that were in
the country's long term policy interests rather than short term political
Tony should have and could used the first person. "I'm sorry I screwed up in
choosing Prince Phillip, before I make any further decisions, I will consult
with my cabinet and not just rely on Peta or anyone else who just says what I
want to hear.
Tony Abbott has been a great prime minister that he can be very proud of. What
he needs to now is to remember advice I posted for him when he was opposition
leader. He needs to pray daily "God help me keep my mouth shut when I don't know
what I'm doing or saying". If he can stop engaging his mouth before his brain
and, engage the brains of those around him, he might just remain prime minister.
If does not or cannot demonstrate that in the next week or so, then he might as
well go for a ride on his bike with his thinking cap.
Ottawa Mens Centre