7 Feb 2015

Pressure mounts for Abbott

10:52 am on 7 February 2015

Pressure is mounting on Tony Abbott to allow his party colleagues a secret ballot on whether he should be ousted as Australian prime minister.

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott Photo: AFP

A motion to spill the prime minister and deputy prime minister's positions will be debated in the Liberal party room meeting on Tuesday.

Whether a vote takes place - and whether it is a secret ballot or a show of hands - is up to Mr Abbott, the Liberal Party leader.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said he wanted conventions to be respected.

"The precedent is that it's a secret ballot and I'd expect that it will be a secret ballot on this occasion," he told the ABC's 7.30 program.

But he was clear what his position would be.

"I will be voting no against the spill," he said.

Employment Minister Eric Abetz also backed a secret ballot.

"The party room has a secret ballot system in place, as I understand it," he said.

"I don't want to get into those mechanics, because I hope at the end of the day it doesn't even get to a motion being put."

Other ministers told the ABC they wanted a secret ballot because they did not want to be "bound" by principle of Cabinet solidarity to support Mr Abbott's leadership.

A secret ballot would allow Cabinet ministers to cast a vote against the Prime Minister without breaching the principle.

Forcing MPs and senators to raise their hand in favour of a spill would be expected to work in Mr Abbott's favour, as dissenters would be revealed and potentially face retribution if the spill was unsuccessful.

No defined process for Liberal Party spills

Unlike the Labor Party, the Liberals have no clearly defined process for how leadership challenges are to be conducted.

As chief whip Philip Ruddock put it: "The party has no written rules."

"The fact that we have no written rules means that people are guided by convention and practice ... it's really a matter for the leader to determine."

Recent leadership spills have used secret ballots.

"On the last occasion, Malcolm Turnbull, when he was subject of a motion, asked John Howard for some counsel on how it should proceed," Mr Ruddock said.

"John said, as I recall, 'It can be a show of hands.' Malcolm determined that it would be a secret ballot."

Whether Mr Abbott will allow a secret ballot, insist on a show of hands, or decline to allow a vote at all, is not clear.

"He has agreed we will deal with it on Tuesday," was all Mr Ruddock would say on the matter.

On Friday, Mr Abbott said he and deputy leader Julie Bishop would "stand together" to defeat the spill motion.


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