Crucial week for under-fire Australian PM after “catastrophic” poll

Monday, 2 February 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Tony Abbott, Prime Minister of Australia, addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York – File Photo     Reuters: Australia’s conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott came under renewed leadership pressure on Sunday, a little over a year into office following a voter backlash in a state poll and a slump in his personal approval rating. Abbott said he was determined to stay on as leader, adding government was “not a popularity contest”, but conceded Saturday’s rout of the Liberal-National party (LNP) in the Queensland election had delivered a jolt. “The people of Australia elected me as prime minister and they elected my Government to get on with the job of governing our country,” he told reporters in Sydney. “I accept that we’ve had some difficulties,” Abbott said. “I accept that we need to learn from the difficulties that we’ve had, but in the end, Government is not a popularity contest, it is a competence contest.” In an embarrassing result for the Queensland LNP, closely aligned to Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition, the party surrendered the largest political majority in Australia’s history after just one term in office. Members of the Government called the result “catastrophic”, sparking speculation of a possible party revolt against Abbott’s leadership. Local media reported that Abbott has called a two-day meeting of his cabinet from Tuesday to thrash out a policy agenda for 2015 and confront the political issues dogging his Government. Fairfax media reported backbenchers and ministers have been expressing growing doubts over Abbott’s leadership in recent weeks, however the majority of the dissatisfaction has been kept behind closed doors or through background briefings to the media. Attorney-General George Brandis told Sky News the cabinet “was determinedly, unitedly and strongly behind the prime minister”. Abbott has been criticised for broken electoral promises and a series of policy backflips. That pressure intensified last week when even his biggest supporters, including Australian-born media baron Rupert Murdoch, publicly criticised his contentious and unpopular decision to award Britain’s Prince Philip a knighthood. Abbott’s surprise reintroduction of knights and dames in the honours system last year drew criticism that he was out of touch with national sentiment.