Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has survived a confidence vote on the leadership of his party after just 17 months in power, with 61 votes against 39.

"The Liberal Party has met, we have had a ballot, it was properly conducted. The result is very clear. No [to change of leadership] 61. Yes 39," Philip Ruddock, the chief whip, said on Monday.

The open challenge to Abbott's leadership came as the conservative leader faced slumping polls and a torrent of criticism in recent weeks over policy decisions ranging from his handling of the economy to awarding an Australian knighthood to Queen Elizabeth's husband, Prince Philip.

The party's internal tussle resulted in some MPs calling for the vote last week.

The move aimed to declare vacant the positions of party leader and deputy leader - currently occupied by Abbott and Deputy Prime Minister Julie Bishop.

If it had succeeded, the party room, or Liberal Party members of both houses of parliament, could vote for new candidates for the jobs.

Abbott said in a brief statement on Sunday that "the last thing Australia needs right now is instability and uncertainty.

"The only question for our party is do we want to reduce ourselves to the level of the Labor Party in dragging down a first term prime minister," he said, referring to the opposition party which replaced then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with Julia Gillard in 2010.

Falling popularity

An opinion poll conducted by a publication The Australian showed the ruling Liberal-National coalition now trails the Labor opposition on a two-party basis 43 percent to 57 percent while 68 percent of the 1,178 people interviewed were dissatisfied with Abbott's performance.

Abbott's popularity lags far behind Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Bishop, both touted as potential leadership contenders, but who had not formally stated they would put their hand up as an alternative leader.

Since being elected in September 2013, the government has sealed free trade deals with China, South Korea and Japan. It also killed off controversial carbon and mining taxes and sharply reduced the number of asylum-seeker boats arriving in Australia.

The government announced savings across the board to rein in a growing budget deficit, but critics have slammed measures to cut health and education spending while tightening welfare as too harsh.

Source: AFP