Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has brought forward a crucial meeting that will see the ruling Liberal Party consider replacing him as leader.

Abbott, who has spent the week doggedly fighting off the threat of a challenge from within the government, said on Sunday that he had asked his party to meet in Canberra at 9am local time on Monday (22:00 GMT Sunday) to deal with the leadership issue.

Western Australian MP Luke Simpkins sent an email to Liberal Party colleagues on Friday to announce he would move a leadership vote at a scheduled party meeting on Tuesday.

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 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.

Tony Abbott, Australian Prime Minister

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.

"Now, obviously, I've been talking to many colleagues over the last few days and my very strong sense is that we are determined to do what we were elected to do: to clean up Labor's mess and to give our people the economic security and the national security that they need and deserve," Abbott added.

Potential challenger

No member of the government has so far indicated a direct challenge to Abbott, although most attention has focused on Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a former party leader toppled by Abbott.

Turnbull, a millionaire lawyer and former investment banker, has not yet said he will challenge Abbott directly but on Sunday he gave the strongest indication yet he would run.

"If for whatever reason, the leadership of a political party is vacant, then any member of the party can stand ... without any disloyalty to the person whose leadership has been declared vacant," Turnbull told reporters outside a function in Sydney.

Opinion polls have consistently shown voters prefer Turnbull to lead the party but his views on a carbon trading scheme, marriage equality and support for an Australian republic have made him unpopular with the right wing of his party.

Removing Abbott would need support from more than 51 of the 102 members of the Liberal Party at the vote on Monday.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies