Abbott, Hockey tension mounts

Andrew Probyn Federal Political Editor

Tony Abbott has abandoned much of his ambition to pursue tough reforms after being given a last chance by colleagues to salvage his prime ministership.

Visibly shaken by what he described as a "near-death experience", the Prime Minister promised yesterday to transform his style and substance after surviving a leadership spill motion 61 votes to 39.

Even Mr Abbott's supporters concede that the PM cannot afford another blunder or dubious "captain's call".

A minister who did not support yesterday's leadership spill motion offered a brutal assessment: "Abbott will last as long as his next big mistake."

Liberal MPs said ensuring success in the May 12 Budget was now critical to Mr Abbott's fortunes, but the PM raised eyebrows among colleagues when he twice failed to endorse Joe Hockey as Treasurer in a press conference.

Mr Abbott eventually said he "stood by my Treasurer" when pushed by Labor leader Bill Shorten in question time.

But Mr Abbott has already been told by Cabinet colleagues he should consider replacing Mr Hockey, possibly with Malcolm Turnbull.

One frontbencher told The West Australian last night that Mr Hockey was being unfairly blamed for some of the economic calls made by the PM.

Mr Abbott signalled the Government's unpopular Medicare co-payment proposal might be scrapped and that any replacement plan would not be without the "broad backing" of doctors.

"It was a bold and ambitious Budget last year," Mr Abbott said.

"With the wisdom of hindsight, it was perhaps too bold and too ambitious.

"We did, with the wisdom of hindsight, bite off more than we could chew.


Prime Minister Tony Abbott in Parliament after the leadership spill. Picture: Getty Images

"But I've listened, I've learnt and I've changed and the Government will change with me.

"We will not buy fights with the Senate that we can't win, unless we are absolutely determined that they are the fights that we really, really do need to have."

Liberal sources said Christopher Pyne's university deregulation changes - identified last week by Cabinet minister Andrew Robb as one of the "surprises" that damaged the coalition's standing - would likely be watered down.

Any prospect of the Government embarking on another round of media reforms has also disappeared.

Mr Abbott said the Government had experienced some headwinds, including an "obstructionist" Opposition.

He said he also understood colleagues being unnerved by a nightmare result for the Liberal National Party in Queensland.

"The solution to all of these things is good government - and good government starts today," Mr Abbott said.

A major bugbear among Liberal MPs remains the operation of the Prime Minister's Office and the influence of his chief of staff Peta Credlin

Mr Abbott was asked yesterday whether Ms Credlin, who has disappeared from public view in recent days, had offered to resign.

He did not directly answer the question.

"We've all had a good, long, hard look at ourselves and all of us are resolved to be different and better in the future than we have been in the past, and that's true at every level - me, my Cabinet colleagues, my ministerial colleagues, my senior staff - we are all resolved to be and do better," he said.