Australian PM Tony Abbott survives bid to unseat him

Australian PM Tony Abbott survives bid to unseat him

SYDNEY - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Monday survived a confidence vote on his leadership after just 17 months in power, despite a disastrous new poll showing his popularity plunging.

Abbott has been fighting for his job after poor ratings and a series of policy backflips spurred some MPs from his conservative Liberal Party openly to attack him, calling for a leadership "spill" last week.

The motion aimed to declare vacant the positions of party leader and deputy leader - currently occupied by Abbott and Deputy Prime Minister Julie Bishop.

If it had succeeded, the party room, or Liberal Party members of both houses of Parliament, could vote for new candidates for the jobs.

But the 101 Liberal parliamentarians - one was absent - rejected the proposal by 61 to 39 in a secret ballot.

"The Liberal Party has met, we have had a ballot, it was properly conducted. The result is very clear. No 61. Yes 39," said chief whip Philip Ruddock. "That seems to me to resolve the matter."

Abbott, who has vowed to change the way he conducts himself, addressed the party room after the vote and then walked out surrounded by colleagues before federal Parliament sits for the first time this year.

He made no immediate comment.

The 57-year-old survived despite a dire Newspoll in The Australian broadsheet and the vote outcome is unlikely to end speculation about his future.

The poll showed the ruling Liberal-National coalition now trails the Labor opposition on a two-party basis 43 per cent to 57 per cent while 68 per cent of the 1,178 people interviewed were dissatisfied with Abbott's performance.

Abbott's popularity lags far behind Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Bishop, both touted as potential leadership contenders, but who had not formally stated they would put their hand up as an alternative leader.

Ahead of the vote, Abbott said he was determined to get back to the business of running the country.

"As of 9.30 the important thing is to put the internals behind us and get on with being the government that we were elected to be," he said.

"To clean up Labor's mess and to deliver for the Australian people the economic security, the national security that they deserve, that means a focus on jobs, families and economic growth."

In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation late Sunday, Abbott described having the motion brought against him as a "very chastening experience".

"I am determined that my government, if it continues, will learn from this experience, will be different and better this year than we were in every respect last year," he said.

Since being elected in September 2013, the government has sealed free trade deals with China, South Korea and Japan. It also killed off controversial carbon and mining taxes and sharply reduced the number of asylum-seeker boats arriving in Australia.

The government announced savings across the board to rein in a growing budget deficit, but critics have slammed measures to cut health and education spending while tightening welfare as too harsh.

Abbott's leadership has also been criticised for changed positions on several issues and for awarding Britain's Prince Philip a knighthood last month.

One of the backbenchers who initiated the confidence vote, Luke Simpkins, said ahead of the vote that Abbott had created the situation.

"No one started this apart from, unfortunately, the prime minister himself," he told reporters late Sunday.

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