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Australian Politics: Malcolm Turnbull confronts Tony Abbott in secret meeting

Malcolm Turnbull eyes off the Prime Ministership.
Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull directly confronted Prime Minister Tony Abbott in a crunch meeting about the government's woes before Wednesday's cabinet meeting.

Fairfax Media has spoken to several sources familiar with the discussion that took place between the pair and can reveal they sat down, at Mr Turnbull's instigation, in an unscheduled meeting that canvassed the future direction of the Coalition government.

The closed-door meeting in the Prime Minister's office, in the midst of a two-day cabinet meeting, comes amid a deepening leadership crisis for the Abbott government.

Fairfax Media has confirmed that in the sit-down, Mr Turnbull stressed to the Prime Minister that he was completely removed from the recent spate of backbench agitators calling for a spill at Tuesday's party room meeting.

The Communications Minister, however, pressed the Prime Minister on how the government would extricate itself from its current leadership woes.
Tony Abbott was confronted by the Communications
Minister in a crunch meeting about the government's woes.

It's understood that in return, Mr Abbott repeated the key themes of his National Press Club speech.

Mr Turnbull is said to have been "underwhelmed" by Mr Abbott's reply.

Some sources suggested that Mr Abbott sought assurances from Mr Turnbull that he would not seek the leadership if a party-room vote occurred next Tuesday, though others disputed this.

Other sources suggested Mr Turnbull declined to offer unconditional support.

The revelations of the secret meeting between the pair will ratchet up tensions in the Coalition party-room and may make a spill motion to resolve the issue inevitable.

They also come after former frontbencher Arthur Sinodinos warned late on Wednesday that his ongoing support for Mr Abbott was not unconditional, and after Trade Minister Andrew Robb admitted on Wednesday the government had made mistakes.

Asked on Sky News if Mr Abbott would be Prime Minister next week, Senator Sinodinos, a long time chief of staff to former prime minister John Howard, said "comrade, ask me next week".

Several backbench MPs have called for a spill motion to be brought on next Tuesday when parliament resumes, while others have been publicly critical of Mr Abbott's leadership.



Earlier on Thursday night, Mr Turnbull evaded questions about any leadership ambitions after fronting the media and punters at a meet-and-greet event on the central coast.

The Communications Minister arrived at the "politics in the pub" event with local MP Karen McNamara in tow.

"Tony Abbott has the support of the entire party," he said.

"Tony Abbott has had utter consistency and loyalty from his front bench," Mr Turnbull said when asked about the leadership of the party. "More than any other Liberal leader."

Mr Turnbull declined to comment when approached by Fairfax Media about the meeting, as did a spokesman for Mr Abbott.

In an interview with Sky News late on Thursday night, Mr Abbott confirmed he "believed" Mr Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop when they said they were not going to challenge for his job.

"Yes, I do. They are my Cabinet colleagues, they are my friends, I have known them both for a long time, I've worked closely with them for a long time. You always have your ups and downs; that's natural when you've got strong personalities talking about the most difficult decisions that any country can face. But I trust them; they're my friends and colleagues," he said.