February 2015 Liberal Party of Australia leadership spill motion

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February 2015 Liberal Party of Australia
Leadership spill motion
← 2009 9 February 2015 2015 (Sep) →
  Tony Abbott No image.svg
Candidate Tony Abbott Spill motion
Votes 61 39
% 61% 39%

Leader before election

Tony Abbott

Elected Leader

Tony Abbott

A motion seeking a leadership spill of the federal parliamentary leader of the Liberal Party of Australia, Prime Minister and Deputy Leader was proposed in a meeting of the parliamentary Liberal Party on 9 February 2015.[1] Luke Simpkins and Don Randall moved the spill motion at the meeting.[2] Incumbent Prime Minister Tony Abbott and deputy leader of the Liberal Party Julie Bishop jointly stood in opposition to the motion[3] which was defeated by 61 votes to 39.[4]

A September 2015 leadership spill would see Malcolm Turnbull defeat Abbott 54 votes to 44.

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Tony Abbott became leader of the Liberal Party in December 2009 after forcing a leadership ballot on the subject of Malcolm Turnbull's support of the Labor First Rudd Government's proposed Emissions Trading Scheme.[5] Joe Hockey was initially thought by political commentators as the favourite to win the ballot. However, Hockey was defeated in the first round of voting, and in the second and final round, Abbott defeated Turnbull by 42 votes to 41 to become the party's leader and Leader of the Opposition. Bishop was re-elected as Deputy Leader, and declared subsequent to the ballot in a 2013 interview that she supported Turnbull.[6] Abbott led the Liberal/National Coalition to the 2010 federal election where a hung parliament was the outcome.[7] After a protracted period of negotiations, Prime Minister Julia Gillard formed the Second Gillard Government. Following the 2010 election, Abbott and Bishop were re-elected unopposed as leaders of the Liberal Party.[8]

Prime Minister Abbott on Australia Day 2015, the day it was announced that Prince Philip and Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston were appointed Knights of the Order of Australia.

At the 2013 federal election, Abbott led the Coalition to victory over the incumbent second Rudd government. Abbott and his ministry were sworn in on 18 September 2013.[9] Abbott government came to power with 53.5 percent of the two-party preferred vote. However, the Coalition failed to win control of the Senate,[10] that resulted in several blockages of the Coalition's proposed legislative reforms including university education and TAFE deregulation, co-payment for general practitioner visits, and a paid parental leave scheme.[11][12] By the May release of the 2014 budget, average polling revealed that the Abbott government's two-party preferred vote had decreased to 46 percent; and despite an upward swing in polling between August to October 2014, by late January and early February 2015, polling had reduced the two-party preferred vote to 45 percent.[13] A Fairfax/Ipsos poll in released in early February revealed that Abbott's approval rating had fallen 9 points to 29 per cent since December and his disapproval had risen 10 points to 67 per cent. Abbott trailed Labor Opposition leader Bill Shorten as preferred Prime Minister by 50 per cent to 34 per cent, an 8 point worsening for Abbott since December.[14]

On Australia Day 2015 Abbott announced that Queen Elizabeth had accepted his recommendation that her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, be appointed a Knight of the Order of Australia. The appointment was criticised by Shorten who said: "It's a time warp where we're giving knighthoods to English [sic] royalty. Some people (have) wondered whether it was an Australia Day hoax." Adam Giles, Northern Territory chief minister and Country Liberal Party leader, said: "I woke up this morning and read the wires and was confused between Australia Day and April Fool's Day,"[15] adding "It makes us a bit of a joke. It's Australia Day, we're not a bunch of tossers."[16] Abbott later stated that he had made a captain's call and not consulted with his cabinet colleagues over the appointment.[17][18] Abbott faced criticism from some parliamentarians in his own party and the Nationals over the proposed appointment.[19]

Meanwhile, the 2015 Queensland election was held on 31 January with Abbott asked to stay away from Queensland during the campaign period.[20] Premier Newman, who lost his seat at the election, claimed that the decision to award a knighthood to Prince Philip caused an unwanted distraction in the final days of the campaign as Newman sought to focus on jobs and the economy.[21] The sitting Liberal National Party suffered a 14 point two-party swing, and lost what was considered an unlosable election (owing to its overwhelming majority) to Labor, which subsequently formed minority government.[22]

Dissent initially emerged from backbenchers, including Andrew Laming from Queensland,[23] and Western Australia's Dennis Jensen, who was the first Liberal MP to publicly call on the prime minister to resign.[24] Their dissent was echoed by several other Liberal backbenchers, including Simpkins and Randall from Western Australia. On Friday, 6 February, Simpkins submitted to the Chief Government Whip a motion, seconded by Randall, to spill the parliamentary leadership positions of the Liberal Party.[25]

On the day before the leadership spill vote, Abbott announced that a planned submarine deal, which previously seemed likely to be manufactured by Japanese shipbuilders, would instead proceed with an "open tender". This announcement came as a surprise as the Government had resisted calls for an open tender months prior to the spill motion, and was seen as an attempt by Abbott to secure support from South Australian parliamentarians, such as Senator Sean Edwards who warned he may not support Abbott in the motion over the issue. ASC Pty Ltd, the Government owned naval shipbuilding corporation is based in Adelaide, South Australia. After, the government chose to call it a "competitive evaluation process" rather than an "open tender" with no indication of what would change.[26]

Liberal Party voting rules[edit]

Under party rules, any Liberal MP or senator can propose a motion to spill the party's leadership. The leader of the party then invites a discussion of the motion at a party room meeting, and makes a decision whether to call a vote on the matter based on the sentiments which are expressed.[27][28] The leader can also choose to conduct this vote through a public show of hands or a secret ballot.[29] Abbott stated, before the ballot, that it would be conducted in secret, as has previously occurred.[30] By convention, Liberal Party ministers are expected to vote against conducting leadership spills.[30]

If a vote on the spill motion is conducted, and a majority supports a spill, the leadership is declared to be vacant. Candidates then nominate for the position, and a vote is held among the members present at the meeting. If more than two people nominate, multiple rounds of voting take place if no candidate has a majority, with the lowest-placed candidate being eliminated until a candidate has a majority of the votes of a ballot. There were 102 Liberal members at this spill, and 52 would need to be in favour for the motion to succeed if all were in attendance at the party room meeting.[27][28]


On the morning of 9 February, The Australian reported that a Newspoll survey conducted over the previous days had found that Abbott was the most unpopular Prime Minister since Paul Keating in 1994. The survey also found that Bishop or Turnbull would be preferred to Abbott as the Prime Minister.[31] The Australian Financial Review stated that the results of this and other recent polling were "disastrous" for the government, and that "Voters have adopted an 'anyone but Abbott' view of the Liberal leadership".[32]

A motion to spill the leadership was voted on, and defeated, in the Liberal Party meeting which commenced at 9am on 9 February. All of the Liberal MPs and senators other than Ross Vasta attended the meeting; Vasta was on paternity leave. A total of 61 members voted against the motion, 39 supported it and one cast an informal vote.[33] Following the vote Abbott delivered a speech to the members calling for their support, and promised to consult more with backbench MPs.[33] In this speech, Abbott also made a new commitment to further cut tax rates for small businesses, promised that the 2015 budget would leave families better off and agreed to reduce the role his chief of staff Peta Credlin plays in the government.[34] After the Liberal Party meeting concluded, Abbott made a televised statement in which he said that "The Liberal Party has dealt with the spill motion and now this matter is behind us".[33]

Michelle Grattan, writing in The Conversation, argued that the "narrow margin" of the vote left Abbott "deeply vulnerable to later destabilisation".[35] News Limited journalist Malcolm Farr wrote that Abbott had been "given, at best, a stay of execution".[36]

On 13 February, Abbott removed Father of the Parliament Philip Ruddock from his position as Chief Government Whip in the House of Representatives and replaced him with Scott Buchholz. Some Liberal MPs and journalists attributed Ruddock's removal to Abbott being dissatisfied with Ruddock's performance in managing the tensions leading to the spill motion. However, Bishop and some other MPs rejected any link.[37][38] Abbott stated that he had made the change as part of reforms to provide "a deeper and stronger engagement with the backbench", and it was not retribution against Ruddock.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Prime Minister Tony Abbott calls special party room meeting for Monday to consider spill motion, confirms support for Joe Hockey". ABC News. 8 February 2015. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
  2. ^ "Liberal MPs will vote on a leadership spill". news.com.au. 6 February 2015. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  3. ^ Uhlmann, Chris; Borrello, Eliza (6 February 2015). "Tony Abbott: Defiant PM says he and Julie Bishop will 'stand together' to defeat leadership spill motion". ABC News. Australia. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  4. ^ http://thenewdaily.com.au/news/2015/02/09/breaking-tony-abbott-survives-spill-move/
  5. ^ "Abbott quits as new leadership revolt escalates". The Age. Melbourne. 26 November 2009. Archived from the original on 7 December 2013. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  6. ^ Baker, Jordan (10 February 2013). "Julie Bishop - the interview". The Daily Telegraph. Australia. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  7. ^ Colebatch, Tim (28 August 2010). "72 all – Brisbane to Coalition and Corangamite to ALP". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 30 August 2010.
  8. ^ "Liberal leaders re-elected unopposed". news.com.au. AAP. 9 September 2010.
  9. ^ "Abbott sworn in as Australia's PM". Al Jazeera. Asia Pacific. Retrieved 29 October 2013.
  10. ^ "Senate Results: Summary". Federal Election 2013. Australia: ABC News. 2014. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  11. ^ Bourke, Latika (15 November 2014). "G20 summit: Tony Abbott laments to world leaders his failure to pass tax on GP visits". The Age. Archived from the original on 22 October 2015. Retrieved 7 February 2015.
  12. ^ Hurst, Daniel (26 November 2014). "Tony Abbott a backward-looking failure adrift on world stage, says Bill Shorten". The Guardian. Australia. Retrieved 7 February 2015.
  13. ^ Cassidy, Barrie (5 February 2015). "The public still wants an end to the chaos". The Drum. Australia: ABC News. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  14. ^ Coorey, Phillip (2 February 2015). "Tony Abbott reels from Queensland election debacle". The Australian Financial Review. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  15. ^ "'National revolt' in Australia as Prince Philip awarded knighthood". Channel 4 News. 26 January 2015. Archived from the original on 29 January 2015. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
  16. ^ "Prince Philip and former Defence chief Angus Houston named as Australian knights". The Guardian. 25 January 2015. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
  17. ^ Riordan, Primrose (27 January 2015). "Newspapers nationwide condemn Tony Abbott's captain's call". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  18. ^ Bourke, Latika (4 February 2015). "Liberal leadership crisis: Tony Abbott says backbench might be too 'intimidated' to tell him their concerns". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Archived from the original on 29 August 2015. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  19. ^ Henderson, Anna; Kirk, Alexandra (27 January 2015). "Prince Philip knighthood: Barnaby Joyce criticises PM Tony Abbott's 'captain's call'". ABC News. Australia. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  20. ^ Coorey, Phillip (30 January 2015). "Liberals give Tony Abbott six months". The Australian Financial Review. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  21. ^ "Newman criticises Abbott knighthood pick". Sky News. Australia. 28 January 2015. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  22. ^ "New premier tipped for Queensland". SBS World News. Australia. AAP. 30 January 2015. Retrieved 2 February 2015.
  23. ^ Coorey, Phillip; Mather, Joanna (4 February 2015). "Tony Abbott concedes government has 'bit off more than we can chew'". The Australian Financial Review. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  24. ^ http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2015/s4173524.htm
  25. ^ "Simpkins to move spill motion against PM". Sky News. 6 February 2015. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  26. ^ Hurst, Daniel (8 February 2015). "Tony Abbott pledges open tender for submarines to win over SA Liberals". Guardian Australia. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
  27. ^ a b Jennett, Greg (6 February 2015). "Explained: How a Liberal leadership spill would work". ABC News. Australia. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  28. ^ a b Ghazarian, Zareh (6 February 2015). "Explainer: how does a Liberal leadership spill work?". The Conversation. Retrieved 7 February 2015.
  29. ^ Hunter, Fergus (6 February 2015). "Spill motion against Prime Minister Tony Abbott: what it is, how it works". The Canberra Times. Retrieved 7 February 2015.
  30. ^ a b Grattan, Michelle. "Explainer: why is Australian prime minister Tony Abbott facing a leadership crisis?". SBS News. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
  31. ^ Hudson, Phillip (9 February 2015). "Abbott leadership crisis: Judgment day as Newspoll shows PM losing voters". The Australian. Retrieved 9 February 2015.
  32. ^ Tadros, Edmund (9 February 2015). "Leadership spill: Anyone but Tony Abbott, voters tell Newspoll". Australian Financial Review. Retrieved 9 February 2015.
  33. ^ a b c Griffith, Emma; Glenday, James (9 February 2015). "Tony Abbott keeps leadership of Liberal Party but some supporters fear he is doomed". ABC News. Retrieved 9 February 2015.
  34. ^ Massola, James; Kenny, Mark (9 February 2015). "Tony Abbott pleads with colleagues for six-month reprieve". The Canberra Times. Retrieved 9 February 2015.
  35. ^ Grattan, Michelle (9 February 2015). "Abbott left deeply wounded by narrow victory". The Conversation. Retrieved 9 February 2015.
  36. ^ Farr, Malcolm (9 February 2015). "Tony Abbott defeated the spill motion, but he will still struggle to survive". news.com.au. Archived from the original on 10 February 2015. Retrieved 9 February 2015.
  37. ^ Uhlmann, Chris; Kirk, Alexandra; Glenday, James (13 February 2015). "Philip Ruddock sacked as chief government whip in wake of spill motion against Tony Abbott". ABC News. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  38. ^ Kenny, Mark (13 February 2015). "Coalition elder statesman Philip Ruddock axed as Chief Whip following Liberal Party spill attempt". The Age. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  39. ^ McDonald, Susan; Woodley, Naomi (14 February 2015). "Tony Abbott says decision to replace Philip Ruddock as chief whip not an act of retribution". ABC News. Retrieved 14 February 2015.