Tony Abbott calls on leadership ballot for TONIGHT

Photo: Stefan Postles/ Getty.

The prime ministership of Australia will be decided in a meeting of the Parliamentary Liberal Party tonight.

Tony Abbott decided to bring forward a scheduled meeting of Liberal MPs from tomorrow morning after he was challenged by Malcolm Turnbull this afternoon.

“I will be a candidate, and I expect to win,” Abbott said.

Sky News reported tonight that, crucially, social services minister Scott Morrison would be supporting Tony Abbott in the leadership vote. However, he will not be standing for election as deputy leader with Abbott.

Abbott said he had been “heartened by the messages of support flooding into Liberal MPs offices saying, most emphatically, we are not the Labor party.”

He said: “The Prime Ministership of this country is not a prize or a plaything to be demanded.”

“This country needs strong and stable government. That means avoiding at all costs Labor’s revolving door prime ministership.”

“You can trust me to deliver a stronger economy and a safer community.”

Over the weekend the PM has been dismissing as “gossip” and “individual Canberra games” the prospect of a challenge to his leadership.

But after days of continuous distraction for the federal government as a byelection approaches in Western Australia, the issue was brought to a head by Turnbull who walked into Abbott’s office today with Abbott’s deputy, Julie Bishop, and resigned from the front bench and demanded a leadership ballot.

After resigning, Turnbull said the nation needed a different type of leadership to deal with changing economic circumstances.

His pitch to colleagues he previously led as opposition leader back in 2009 was that he wants to restore Australia’s flagging business confidence.

It’s a risky argument to prosecute. The continued leadership fight damages confidence and threatens to leave the Liberals looking as shambolic as Labor before voters turfed them out over continued instability. The old barrister in Turnbull no doubt relishes the rhetorical effort, but he’s demolished Abbott’s two years in power to get there.

“We need a style of leadership that explains those challenges and opportunities. Explains the challenges and how to seize the opportunities. A style of leadership that respects the people’s intelligence,” Turnbull said.

“We need advocacy, not slogans. We need to respect the intelligence of the Australian electorate,” Turnbull said.

Treasurer Joe Hockey tonight made a brief statement defending the government’s record on economic leadership, saying “the disloyalty of some has been outrageous”, and that Turnbull had never raised concerns with economic management with him or in Cabinet.

Hockey said: “We have an economic plan that has been delivered and is working… We’ve improved the budget bottom line by $50 billion dollars but most importantly of all 300,000 jobs

“Jobs growth is running at 10 times the rate per month that we inherited under Labor.

“You have the right to hire, and only you have the right to fire. We cannot and we must not become a carbon copy of the Labor Party… The Australian people deserve better.”

It’s the second leadership challenge against Abbott this year. Continued concern over his style and poor polling have seen the backbench concerns that flared in February move into the ministerial ranks in recent weeks.

READ: Malcolm Turnbull’s offer to restore business confidence is contradictory, but just might work.

READ: Here’s the speech Malcolm Turnbull delivered announcing he was challenging Tony Abbott.

READ: 16 Malcolm Turnbull quotes that reveal the mind behind Australia’s would-be prime minister.

READ: Australia is tweeting #putoutyouronions for Tony Abbott.

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