By Wayne Cole
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Embattled Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott will face a vote on his leadership at a party-room meeting next week after disgruntled government lawmakers called a challenge following weeks of divisive speculation.
A member of Abbott’s ruling Liberal Party, Western Australian MP Luke Simpkins, sent an email to colleagues to announce he will move the vote at a scheduled party meeting in Canberra on Tuesday, media reported.
The party leader in the government said Abbott had agreed that the vote should go ahead.
“The Prime Minister has indicated this motion will be listed for discussion at the Liberal Party Meeting on Tuesday,” government party leader Philip Ruddock said in a letter to members quoted by The Sydney Morning Herald.
Abbott has faced a torrent of criticism in recent weeks over policy decisions ranging from his handling of the economy to awarding an Australian knighthood to Queen Elizabeth’s husband, Prince Philip.
No member of the government has so far indicated a direct challenge to Abbott, although most media attention has focused on Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a former party leader toppled by Abbott, and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
Abbott had dismissed talk of a challenge as having been drummed up by a few malcontents within his party and the media.
Asked earlier on Friday if he thought there would be a vote on his leadership, Abbott told reporters: “I’m expecting us to get on with government, that’s what I’m expecting.”
Simpkins said he had decided to request the vote on Abbott’s leadership after members of his constituency questioned the direction and leadership of the government.
“The knighthood issue was for many the final proof of a disconnection with the people,” he said in an email widely reported by Australian media.
Bishop has told the Cabinet she would not challenge Abbott but also declined to rule out standing for prime minister if the job became vacant.
Removing Abbott would need support from more than 51 of the 102 members of the federal Liberal party at the party-room vote.
In an attempt to assuage critics, Abbott has agreed to abandon some of his most controversial and divisive plans in recent weeks, including additional general services taxes and a paid parental leave program.
If Abbott is removed, he would be the third prime minister to lose their job in a party-room mutiny since 2010.