14 Sep 2015

'This time I think they will get him'

10:02 am on 14 September 2015

By Chris Uhlmann

It looks increasingly likely the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott will face a leadership challenge before the year is out.

Tony Abbott

Tony Abbott Photo: AFP

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has spoken to eight ministers, and six believe Abbott will be challenged no matter what happens at the Canning by-election in Western Australia, triggered by the death of Liberal MP Don Randall, next Saturday.

"And this time I think they will get him," one minister said.

A double-digit swing against the Liberal Party in Saturday's Canning by-election would fuel the unrest and a turnaround of that magnitude is possible - both the News Limited Galaxy poll and the Fairfax Ipsos poll point to a 10-point swing.

The Ipsos poll has the Liberal Party leading Labor after preferences are distributed by 52 to 48 percent - it was 62 to 38 percent at the 2013 general election.

"And that's after we spent AU$1 million on that seat to save the Prime Minister, and Labor has spent nothing," one Cabinet minister said.

"He said: 'Give me six months.' Well, he has had six months and things have gone from bad to worse.

"He should just resign."

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told Sky News the Canning by-election would be tough, but he thought the Liberals should win well, "but not if we're talking about ourselves".

Australian Federal Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton.

Australian Federal Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton. Photo: AAP

A third minister told the ABC, "everybody is quite jumpy and despondent".

"That's driven by the national polls and the fact that every poll on Canning has 10 percent-type swings," he said.

"And the fact that so much of the self-harm comes from the Prime Minister's office, that so much of it is self-inflicted."

Abbott backer admits leadership moves afoot

One ministerial supporter of the Prime Minister acknowledged there were leadership moves afoot.

"Things are very fluid but I don't think anything will happen this week," he said.

"This is just so destructive. I can't believe they are doing it again.

"But there is no denying it is a co-ordinated campaign."

Talk of a move this week was driven by a belief that Mr Abbott might call an early election in the wake of the Canning by-election to forestall a challenge.

One minister said Mr Abbott should confront his stalkers.

"I think we have got to the stage where Abbott has to think about whether he is going to bring it on himself because this is not going to stop," a minister said.

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott Photo: RNZI / Koro Vaka'uta

Morrison dismisses 'incessant insider speculation'

The Prime Minister was in Western Australia on Sunday and when asked about the leadership speculation said he was "not going to play these Canberra insider games".

Speaking on the Ten Network, Social Services Minister Scott Morrison dismissed talk of a leadership change as "incessant insider speculation" and said he knew nothing of it.

"I'm not part of anything that I would know about," he said. "So, I mean, I support the Prime Minister, everybody knows that, so I suspect they're not talking to me."

Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss called on the party to rally behind Mr Abbott.

"We have an elected leader," he said. "And I think it's very important that all of the team move in behind him and give him credit for his achievements and make sure we work constructively for the future."

Mr Abbott survived a party-room revolt in February by 61 votes to 39.

Parliament resumes on Monday, and in the words of one Liberal, the Coalition MPs and senators now "talk of nothing else" but leadership.

Chris Uhlmann is the ABC's political editor


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