West Australian MP Dennis Jensen wants Tony Abbott to resign the Liberal Party leadership, revealing that the PM lost his support three days before the Prince Philip knighthood fiasco.
After Jensen appeared on TV tonight, another government MP, Warren Entsch, publicly declared he would like to see a leadership ballot and said he supported Malcolm Turnbull for the leadership. A third MP, Mal Brough, has also held a media conference to say that Abbott did not have his “unequivocal support”.
There’s now a prospect that Abbott could face a ballot on his leadership as soon as next week.
Jensen, the South African-born member for Tangney told Fairfax Media that he first sent the PM text messages about his concerns on December 19, but after concluding Abbott had “not stepped up as far as the prime ministership is concerned”, Dr Jensen sent another SMS on January 23 saying the PM no longer had his support.
Dr Jensen, who boycotted Kevin Rudd’s parliamentary apology to the Stolen Generations, described Abbott as a “great wartime leader but not a great peacetime leader”.
He was the first Liberal politician to publicly announce his opposition to Abbott’s leadership and claimed a number of MPs held similar views to his own and “I thought it was time to strike to start things moving”.
The backbencher, who would not commit to moving a motion to vacate the party leadership, told ABC TV’s 7.30 that the government lacked strategic direction.
“One of the fundamental things is building the economy and building economic growth and what we’re focused on is just debt and deficit,” he said. “Quite frankly, the debt and deficit would be solved if we had adequate economic growth.
“The other aspect is don’t think that the leader and his office are listening and communicating effectively either within the government or indeed with the people in general.”
Abbott’s office, led by his chief of staff Peta Credlin, has been the subject of intense backroom criticism from Liberal MPs for months.
Jensen did not nominate a preferred leadership candidate. “It’s not the who, it’s the what,” Jensen said. “If I believed that Tony could achieve the what – which is effectively communicate, work on policy that is coherent and consistent… you wouldn’t have this problem. The problem is that there is basically this lack of ability in my view, in terms of the role of prime minister…”.
While the foreign minister Julie Bishop – who shares Perth as a home city with Jensen – said today she wouldn’t challenge Abbott for the leadership , Fairfax Media is now reporting that she would consider running if someone else moved to force Abbott to declare the leadership vacant and hold a ballot.
Jensen’s intervention has echoes of Labor MP Simon Crean’s intervention in the ALP’s 2013 leadership turmoil when he called for Julia Gillard to resign after Kevin Rudd had promised he would not challenge.
Immigration minister Peter Dutton also appeared on 7.30 tonight, defending the prime minister and appealing to his Parliamentary colleagues to give Abbott “a fair go”.
Entsch intervened following the Jensen interview, saying he would raise the leadership issue in next Tuesday’s party room meeting, and would back Malcolm Turnbull.
Brough said he had a number of differences of opinion with the PM and “we’ve had robust discussions and I expect to have further robust discussions”. He said he did not “unequivocally support” Abbott.
His key complaint is the Defence pay deal last year, which was just a small saving that remained in the defence budget.
“I think we sent a really negative message to our men and women in the Defence force,” Brough said.
But he ruled out taking on the PM.
“I have no intention whatsoever of challenging the prime minister for the leadership of the Liberal Party,” he said.
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