23 Aug 2018

Senior cabinet ministers pull support from Malcolm Turnbull

12:37 pm on 23 August 2018

Three cabinet ministers have withdrawn support from Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, dealing a severe blow to his chances of remaining prime minister.

Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull attends a press conference in Parliament House in Canberra on August 22, 2018.

Malcolm Turnbull Photo: AFP

The ministers, who supported Turnbull in a leadership ballot on Tuesday against former home affairs minister Peter Dutton, said they had changed their position and now backed Dutton.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who had been a key cabinet supporter, said he had told the prime minister there should be an orderly transition to a new leader.

"I can't ignore the fact that a majority of colleagues in the Liberal Party... are of the view that there should be a change," he said.

He tendered his resignation, along with ministers Mitch Fifield and Michaelia Cash.

Mr Dutton confirmed at a news conference this morning that was seeking another vote.

Mr Dutton said the Prime Minister no longer had the support of his party.

But Mr Turnbull rejected the call for a new leadership contest.

Mr Turnbull, whose Liberal Party is the senior partner in the coalition government, had won a party-room vote by 48 to 35 on Tuesday, but the unconvincing victory had left him vulnerable to another challenge.

Mr Turnbull came to power in a party-room coup in September 2015 over former premier Tony Abbott, who also survived an internal leadership contest before his eventual defeat.

A social liberal and multi-millionaire former merchant banker, he rode an early wave of popular support but he has struggled to appeal to conservative voters and only narrowly won an election in 2016.

Second bid for leadership contest

The new bid to put pressure on the Mr Turnbull's leadership was launched last night, with a letter circulating asking for another vote.

Mr Dutton said yesteday he was canvassing for support to take another tilt at Turnbull, possibly as early as this week.

"I'm speaking to colleagues," he told 3AW Radio. "If I believe the majority of colleagues support me then I will consider my position," he said.

The move needs a majority of 43 signatories to force a fresh contest.

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Peter Dutton has asked for a meeting of the Liberal Party at which he would challenge for the leadership of the parliamentary party. Photo: AFP

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, meanwhile, said the government had lost sight of ordinary voters.

"The only thing that sorts this mess out is an election," Mr Shorten told the ABC. "This is a family heading for a divorce."

An early election would not be welcome for the government's marginal seat holders.

LNP backbencher Ken O'Dowd said "we can't afford it", adding "people don't like early elections, Campbell Newman found that out".

"People just don't like it," he said.

Questions over Dutton's eligibility

Mr Dutton's bid for power comes amid questions this week about his eligibility to sit as an MP.

Attorney-General Christian Porter yesterday asked the Commonwealth's most senior lawyer, Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue QC, to investigate whether Mr Dutton had breached the constitution.

Network Ten revealed Mr Dutton has financial interests in childcare centres that get subsidies. Section 44 of the constitution bans politicians from financially benefitting from the Commonwealth.

Mr Dutton this morning released a statement saying the allegation of a breach of the constitution was a "spurious and baseless campaign" .

"The timing on the eve of current events in Australian politics is curious. There has never been any doubt about my eligibility to sit in the Parliament and I attach the unequivocal legal advice I obtained in 2017 to that effect."

- ABC / Reuters

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