Published: Fri, August 24, 2018
Money | By Michele Stevens

Malcolm Turnbull faces high noon leadership challenge

Malcolm Turnbull faces high noon leadership challenge

Turnbull also questioned Dutton's eligibility to sit in parliament when he fronted the media at Parliament House at 1pm today after a tense morning and a mass exodus of 13 of ministers.

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.

A Liberal leadership ballot is expected on Friday, with a possible three-way contest emerging between Julie Bishop, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton.

Speaking to reporters afterward, the prime minister said if he received a letter signed by a majority of party members calling for a renewed leadership vote, he would convene with party members on Friday.

Mr Dutton's supporters circulated a petition among Liberal Party politicians to try to force Mr Turnbull to hold a ballot, but they failed to get the minimum 43 signatures required. The balloting of party members who are not lawmakers takes a month, meaning Australians will never again wake to news that a Labor prime minister had been changed without warning.

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He said Turnbull has run an excellent government that had delivered record jobs growth and a strong economy "and yet that hasn't been good enough for his colleagues - well, for some colleagues in the parliamentary party".

"A few minutes ago I spoke with Malcolm Turnbull to advise him I believed the majority of the party room no longer supported his leadership".

"I can not underline too much how important it is that anyone who seeks to be prime minister of Australia is eligible to be a member of parliament", Turnbull said.

Another four ministers announced their resignation from cabinet shortly after Cormann's press conference.

The question comes down to whether Mr Dutton's stake in a trustee company that operates two childcare centres constitutes a conflict of interest, given the centres receive subsidies that were legislated by the Turnbull government.

Opposition Labor Party leader Bill Shorten told Parliament it was evidence that "Australia no longer has a functioning government".

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However, there is speculation Mr Dutton may withdraw the petition that had been circulating and instead call for the party whip to call the meeting, given three contenders were now likely.

Mr Turnbull won the party-room vote 48-35 but the narrow margin of the victory made another challenge nearly certain in a country that has earned a reputation for a revolving door of political leaders, with six prime ministers since 2009.

"Out of respect for my party, I spoke with the deputy PM and my colleagues", he said.

Australia has had years of political instability since Prime Minister John Howard lost power in 2007 after more than 11 years in office. And Turnbull was streets ahead of anyone else in the parliament as preferred prime minister.

In the case of Peter Dutton, the campaign had been going on for some time in the darkest recesses of late-night pay TV, a small group of conservative News Corp columnists and some Sydney radio presenters. As more and more candidates throw their hats in the ring, it becomes harder and harder to know who our Prime Minister will be a day, week or month from now.

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