Julie Bishop has reportedly told the prime minister and her colleagues in cabinet that she will not be making a challenge against Tony Abbott’s leadership. But they all know that a challenge could be fatal at the polls. The PM needs to stand aside.
“I have no doubt, no doubt at all that Julie Bishop is absolutely 100 per cent supportive of the prime minister as we all are,” declared Joe Hockey today when he emerged from a two-day meeting of Cabinet where Coalition MPs are supposed to be clearing the air and planning for the year ahead.
If there was a time to make the challenge – this week, at least – it was while all the ministers are assembled for these crunch discussions.
However, the foreign minister has given Abbott her word that she had not been mounting a challenge for his job or even so much as been canvassing backbenchers for their support. This has now apparently been seconded by Hockey.
Of course, it doesn’t mean that Bishop does not have one eye, or even one hand, on the top job.
As the prime minister warned in Monday’s key address at the National Press Club, a messy leadership knifing a-la-Labor would give the government the stench of the Rudd-Gillard leadership chaos.
The irony that it was Abbott himself who worked so tirelessly to ferment that smell is surely not lost on him, and he and his LNP backbenchers know full well that it will most certainly not be lost on voters.
For the Coalition to avoid that fate they must either stand by their beleaguered leader or wait for him to martyr himself for the good of the government by stepping down, clearing the way for Bishop or someone else to assume control in an orderly manner.
For now then, Abbott has a lifeline and the decision is his to make… at least until the stench of ‘captain’s calls’ and certain electoral defeat becomes greater than the odour of hypocrisy.
Bishop is an Abbott disciple and will give him a chance to recover. How much longer can Malcolm Turnbull keep holding his nose, though?
IMAGE: : Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop. (Stefan Postles/Getty Images)