Tony Abbott has put new pressure on Malcolm Turnbull to change his mind on the emissions trading scheme (ETS) or face a leadership challenge.
The news comes as another high-profile Liberal, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, has resigned from the frontbench, citing an ‘extraordinary reaction to the ETS’ from the NSW Liberal supporter base.
On Thursday, Mr Turnbull stared down a revolt by several Liberal MPs – led by Mr Abbott – who quit the opposition front bench over the ETS deal.
On Friday, Mr Turnbull – who survived a move to force a leadership spill on Wednesday – again declared he would not quit the leadership.
“I will not step down. I’ll stay leader until the partyroom removes me as leader,” he told the Seven Network.
Climate sceptics ‘damaging party’
“I will not take a backward step, there’s too much at stake. It’s just not the credibility of the party.”
He attacked Mr Abbott and climate sceptics in the party, accusing them of trying to damage the Liberal party.
“The people that are opposing me within the party do not believe in climate change at all. They make John Howard look like a greenie,” he said.
“They are turning back the clock and Australians will punish us very, very severely at the next election if these guys have their way and we go to the election as the `do nothing on climate change party’.”
Abbott ‘letting down the team’
Speaking before Mr Abbott’s announcement, Mr Turnbull said his former minister was letting the party down.
“Tony Abbott is letting down the whole Liberal party. There is not a position on the ETS Tony has not held.”
Mr Abbott told Macquarie Radio on Friday that if Mr Turnbull refused to change his mind on the bill on Friday, he would push for a leadership spill on Monday and he would put his hand up for the job.
“I will be talking to colleagues this morning. If there is no movement from the bunker then I’ll be calling a spill for Monday morning,” he told Macquarie Radio on Friday.
The opposition’s negotiator with the government on the bill, Ian Macfarlane, said he supported Mr Turnbull.
“I always support the leader and Malcolm Turnbull is showing real courage and real leadership,” he told ABC Radio.
“It’s not very long ago some of these people were calling for strong leadership but when they got it they didn’t like it because it didn’t agree with their particular policy.
“Well, that’s democracy. The majority of people in the Liberal Party in Canberra support Malcolm Turnbull and will continue to do so.”
Mr Macfarlane said the Senate would continue to debate the emissions trading legislation on Friday and into next week.
“It’s still my understanding and expectation that the legislation will be passed,” he said.
Liberal Senate leader Nick Minchin – who also tendered his resignation from shadow cabinet on Thursday – says he’ll continue to push for the legislation to go to a Senate committee over the summer recess otherwise he’ll vote against the bill.
Senator Minchin resigned from shadow cabinet on Thursday, amongst other Liberals who were also unhappy with Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull’s stance on the emissions trading scheme.
ETS needs seven votes
“I will participate in the debate to the extent that I indicated to Mr Turnbull and that is to vote for any amendments that refer the bill to a committee over the recess and if they are unsuccessful, I will vote against this legislation, if it comes up for the third reading,” he told reporters in Canberra on Friday.
Mr Turnbull said he expected Liberal senators to support the bill. Only seven are needed to get the government’s ETS bill over the line.
“I expect the Liberal senators to vote in accordance with the decision of the partyroom and the shadow cabinet and that is to support the legislation which we made much better by getting the government to agree to some very significant amendments,” Mr Turnbull said.
“We are at a turning point in the history of the Liberal party – we can either be seen as a party of tomorrow, a progressive party which believes in taking action on climate change, or we can go backwards.”