Australia: Bruised Abbott survives leadership challenge

Tony Abbott's ruling Liberal Party voted down a motion to unseat him after weeks of infighting.

FILE: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Picture: AFP

SYDNEY - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott survived a challenge to his leadership on Monday after his ruling Liberal Party voted down a motion to unseat him after weeks of infighting, but the attempted revolt appears likely to weaken his grip on power.

In a secret party room ballot, a vote to declare the positions of party leader and deputy leader vacant was defeated by 61 votes to 39, a party official told reporters.

In a short televised statement following the vote, Abbott insisted the turmoil was over and called for unity within the conservative party and the country.

"The Liberal Party has dealt with the spill motion and now this matter is behind us," Abbott said.

"We think that when you elect a government, when you elect a prime minister, you deserve to keep that government and that prime minister until you have a chance to change your mind."

Still, a consensus appeared to be forming that the large number of votes against Abbott indicated a lack of support so damaging as to potentially render him a lame duck.

"It does suggest to me continuing instability, because 40 percent of your party has just expressed no confidence in you," Rod Tiffen, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Sydney, told Reuters.

"I think that it means leadership speculation will be on the agenda in Australian politics until it's resolved by Abbott's exit, really."

Following the vote, online gambling site had Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull as the favourite to be prime minister at the next election, with a A$1 bet paying out at A$1.60. Abbott was at odds of A$2.75, while Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was A$6.50, an indication of the damage done.