Turnbull expected to challenge if vote succeeds

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    Tony Abbott spill: PM faces referendum on leadership; Turnbull expected to challenge if vote succeeds

    By political correspondents Chris Uhlmann, Emma Griffiths and Jane Norman
    Updated 40 minutes agoMon 9 Feb 2015, 8:02am
    PHOTO: The Coalition trails Labor 43 per cent to 57 per cent on a two-party preferred basis in the latest Newspoll.(Liberal.org.au)
    RELATED STORY: 'Chastened' Abbott concedes he could lose spill motion vote
    RELATED STORY: Cabinet ministers urged to oppose Liberal spill motion or resign
    RELATED STORY: Arthur Sinodinos declares support for Liberal leadership spill motion
    MAP: Australia
    Prime Minister Tony Abbott will go into today's Liberal party room meeting essentially facing a referendum on his leadership.
    Liberal MPs preparing to vote in the leadership spill will be waking up to dire news in the first Newspoll of the year.
    The Coalition now trails Labor 43 per cent to 57 per cent on a two-party preferred basis and the number of respondents dissatisfied with Mr Abbott's performance has climbed to 68 per cent.
    No-one has yet declared they will stand against Mr Abbott should the motion to spill the positions of party leader and deputy succeed — and no-one will.
    The ABC understands the principal pretender, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, will not announce a challenge before the 102 members of the party meet at 9:00am (AEDT).
    The rationale is simple. In the words of one of Mr Turnbull's supporters: "This is all about Abbott."
    "Malcolm did not instigate this or encourage this," the supporter said.
    "And he does not want this to be seen as Turnbull vs Abbott."
    The MP said the move to spill was a genuine backbench revolution, and the fact that it was so close without anyone running against the Prime Minister was a brutal indicator of how weakened Mr Abbott has become.
    If the spill motion succeeds, then it is obvious Mr Turnbull will run.
    "He'd be a complete arsehole if he didn't," the MP said.
    On Sunday night, it was impossible to get a clear idea of whether the move to spill would stand or fall, with both sides saying it could be close.
    "Anyone who tells you they have the numbers in this is lying," one minister said.
    One thing is certain — even some of the Prime Minister's most ardent supporters now believe he is mortally wounded and cannot survive the year.
    The arguments they are making on his behalf are simply aimed at buying time.
    And few of the loyalists believe that — even with more time — Mr Abbott can now improve the Government's fortunes.
    Spill comes amid Liberal party's lowest polling approval in months

    MPs in New South Wales fear the crisis in the federal party will bleed into their state's election, which is just six weeks away.
    In a telling sign, highly respected NSW senator Arthur Sinodinos declared his support for the spill motion on Sunday.
    Senator Sinodinos, a former chief of staff to John Howard, said he believed the party had to "have this discussion", and expressed disappointment the party meeting had been dragged forward by one day.
    Media player: "Space" to play, "M" to mute, "left" and "right" to seek.

    VIDEO: Tony Abbott says spill motion a 'chastening experience' (ABC News)
    Mr Abbott's supporters are confident of victory but on Sunday night the Prime Minister conceded he might lose the vote and said the move against him was a "very chastening" experience.
    Although executive solidarity had been invoked to bind frontbenchers to his cause, Mr Abbott told ABC News that how they voted in the secret ballot would be "entirely" up to them.
    If the 35 members of the executive vote against the spill as a block, only 17 more votes would be needed to defeat it.
    Some ministers have complained that pressure has been applied for them to publicly back Mr Abbott, and so far about half of the 34 ministers and parliamentary secretaries have come out to say they would vote against the spill motion.
    On Sunday evening Mr Abbott said: "I would expect that if a minister was incapable of supporting the Government, the minister in question would've spoken to me — and none of them have."
    "But, nevertheless, this is an opportunity for people to do what they genuinely believe is right for the Government and for the country," he said.
    He again warned colleagues not to "look like the Labor Party" and "roll" a prime minister.
    Some ministers have told the ABC they have already decided to vote according to their conscience.

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