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Australia’s prime minister, Tony Abbott.

Queensland poll rout a fresh setback for Australia’s Abbott

Tony Abbott has vowed to continue as Australia’s prime minister, downplaying speculation he will face a leadership contest after the Liberal party’s disastrous showing in a state election and his plummeting personal poll ratings, Sky News reports. “The people of Australia elected me as prime minister and they elected my government to get on with the job of governing our country,” said Mr Abbott on Sunday. “The important thing is not to navel-gaze; it’s not to look at ourselves, it’s to get on with the job of being a better government.”

The Liberal party is set to lose power in Queensland after an election on Saturday that provided one of the biggest turnround’s in Australian political history. The shock victory for the Labor party — which in the last Queensland election in 2012 won just 7 of 89 seats — is also likely to put on hold more than A$30bn in state asset sales planned by the current Liberal-led state government.

Election analysis by state broadcaster ABC suggests Labor will win 45 seats, giving it a one-seat majority in parliament and pushing the Liberals into opposition after a single term in office. The Liberal party’s election mauling comes at the end of a bruising week for the prime minister, who was ridiculed by colleagues for bestowing an Australian knighthood on Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. He also failed to overcome opposition in the Senate to his government’s planned reform of higher level education — one of several budget measures that remain blocked.

A Galaxy poll published by News Corp on Sunday showed Mr Abbott’s approval rating has slumped to 27 per cent, from 35 per cent in July. Labor leader Bill Shorten’s approval rating has climbed from 41 per cent to 44 per cent over the same period. Following the electoral rout at the weekend some backbench Liberal MPs have publicly refused to back Mr Abbott’s as party leader, fuelling speculation he could face a leadership contest.

“We are not taking the people with us. We are getting bad feedback,” said Jane Prentice, an LNP federal MP from Queensland. Asked whether Mr Abbott should stay on as prime minister, she replied: “Well, that’s a discussion, isn’t it?” According to The Sydney Morning Herald, backbenchers have approached Malcolm Turnbull, communications minister, and Julie Bishop, foreign minister, about making a leadership challenge.

Mr Turnbull said on Sunday that he supported Mr Abbott. Several other cabinet ministers also defended Mr Abbott on Sunday and warned against agitating for a leadership contest by pointing to the damage caused to the previous federal Labor government when Julia Gillard ousted Kevin Rudd as prime minister. “We would be crazy to repeat the experience of the last Labor government, which failed because it tore down an elected leader,” George Brandis, attorney general, told Sky News.

But with just over 18 months to the next federal election Liberal backbenchers are growing nervous about being able to hold their seats given the unpopularity of Mr Abbott, who critics have accused of breaking electoral promises and proposing an unfair budget. “The Liberal party face a Hobson’s choice: do they stick with an unpopular leader for the next election or do they remove Abbott and risk replicating the chaos of the last Labor government?” said Duncan McDonnell, a lecturer in politics at Griffith University.

He said Labor’s probable Queensland election victory would consign to the grave the Liberal government’s policy of privatising A$30bn or more state assets over the next three years. “Labor campaigned hard against any sell-off and the public clearly didn’t like the plan,” said Mr McDonnell. Campbell Newman, Queensland’s Liberal state premier, planned to sell off state ports and lease electricity infrastructure for 50 years to private companies in a bid to raise cash to pay down debt and invest in infrastructure. Mr Newman — a politician who has been compared to Mr Abbott by critics due to his uncompromising leadership style — lost his seat in the weekend election.

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