Liberal frontbenchers Tony Abbott and Andrew Robb have dismissed suggestions coalition MPs will attempt to oust Malcolm Turnbull as opposition leader in the coming weeks.
Abbott conceded the coalition had endured a nightmare week over the OzCar scandal, which has seen the party’s popularity slump with voters in three polls out on Monday.
Andrew Robb added his voice to those supporting Turnbull, saying he has “no doubt” Turnbull will lead the coalition to the next federal election.
He blamed the “soap opera-type atmosphere” of the OzCar affair for Turnbull’s loss of popularity in the polls, but expected government debt and unemployment to be the deciders in the next election.
Sharpest popularity crash in Newspoll history
A Newspoll shows the Liberal leader suffered the biggest drop in support in the poll’s 25-year history, with voter satisfaction crashing from 44 to 25 per cent.
Nielsen and Galaxy polls also indicate the affair has hurt Turnbull rather than the prime minister.
However, Abbott said leading coalition MPs were simply “getting on with their jobs and are not focusing on a leadership challenge”.
“I think people need to take a bit of a cold shower about the polls. When you’ve had a tough week you get bad polls,” he told reporters in Sydney.
“Labor threw everything bar the kitchen sink at us last week, but Malcolm Turnbull has not flinched and the party has not flinched.
“Polls go up and down, but what won’t go away is the fact that Labor has not improved things.”
When asked if there would be a leadership challenge to Turnbull, Abbott said “we’re just getting on with our jobs. I’m very happy with my position, with my portfolio.
“What could be more important than families and indigenous affairs?”
Mr Abbott also conceded he had a lot to learn before he could rise further up the party’s ranks.
“I’ve made mistakes in parliament recently and that had made me realise I’ve got some work to do, some swatting up to do,” he said.
People ‘sick of smear politics’
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has refused to comment on Turnbull’s plummeting support, but says Australians are sick of smear politics.
However, he would not comment on whether he thought Turnbull would lose his leadership of the Liberal party.
“The government is getting on with the business of jobs and supporting business amidst the worst recession in 75 years,” Rudd told reporters after a sod turning ceremony at a Sydney primary school.
“I think the Australian people are just tired of the politics of fear and smear.”
Some senior Liberal Party members have told The Australian newspaper that had parliament been sitting this week there would have been moves to replace Mr Turnbull with Hockey.
A Nielsen poll also shows a sharp decline in voter support for Turnbull, while Rudd’s approval rating rose three points to 67 per cent.
A Galaxy poll found 51 per cent of people believed Turnbull was dishonest or somewhat deceitful over the OzCar controversy.
Government ‘will serve full term’
Though Labor has widened its winning gap over the coalition, it has no intention of calling an early election, Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese said.
“We’re determined to pursue our agenda for the full term,” he told Fairfax Radio Network.
Mr Albanese says there is unrest in coalition ranks about Turnbull’s judgment.
“Many of their backbenchers were certainly muttering around the corridors … shaking their heads,” he said.