CANBERRA, AAP – Malcolm Turnbull has defeated home affairs minister Peter Dutton in a leadership ballot, but the danger isn’t over yet for the prime minister.
Mr Dutton has resigned from the cabinet, leaving Mr Turnbull to consider a ministerial reshuffle.
But some Liberal MPs believe Mr Dutton’s failed challenge was only the start, and there could be another leadership ballot later this week.
Party whip Nola Marino said confirmed Mr Turnbull won 48 votes to 35 for Mr Dutton.
‘He thanked his colleagues for their support,’ Ms Marino said.
Julie Bishop retained the deputy leadership.
After Mr Turnbull called the spill, Mr Dutton put his hand up to challenge.
Despite Mr Turnbull’s capitulation to energy policy rebels in his ranks, the threat to his leadership did not dissipate.
‘What we want to know is, where are this prime minister’s convictions?’ Mr Abbott told the ABC outside Parliament House on Monday night.
‘We always thought that he was convicted [standing firm] on climate change issues. I think he probably still is. And it was a conversion of convenience this morning.’
Nationals MP Damian Drum has had a gutful of the former prime minister’s interventions.
‘He vowed that he wouldn’t be a wrecker,’ Mr Drum told reporters.
‘That’s exactly what he’s been – a wrecker, and he needs to get out of the joint.’
Backers of likely leadership challenger Peter Dutton, the conservatives’ standard-bearer, insist his support levels are building rapidly.
But Cabinet Minister Christopher Pyne says Mr Dutton told him the prime minister has his absolute support.
‘I’m certain he is telling the truth,’ he told the Nine Network.
Mr Pyne described his Liberal colleagues stoking leadership tensions as ‘cowards’.
‘I think the public would react very negatively to another change of leadership without them having a vote.’
A report in The Australian suggests Mr Turnbull has lost confidence of nine Liberal cabinet ministers – half of the Liberal contingent – and Mr Dutton could move as early as Tuesday to challenge.
The home affairs minister could instead wait until parliament resumes in September.
His camp believes it could get to the 43 votes needed to oust Mr Turnbull, but the prime minister’s backers says he still had majority partyroom support.
‘I have spoken to almost all the cabinet ministers from the Liberal Party and every one of them has told me they support the leader,’ Mr Pyne said.
‘If there are people who are saying behind-the-scenes that is not true, I guess they have to examine their own conscience.’
Fellow MPs from Mr Dutton’s home state of Queensland are also understood to have been encouraged to turn on Mr Turnbull.
Small Business Minister Craig Laundy warns that would go down like a lead balloon.
‘If we are fighting amongst ourselves, guess what, when the voters go to the election, they’ll mark us down as they should,’ Mr Laundy said.
‘They want us to know that we should be concentrating on the things that are important to them.’
Liberal backbencher Tim Wilson acknowledged the numbers were being counted in the party room.
‘I don’t actually expect a challenge today, but we’ll wait and see,’ he told the ABC on Tuesday.
Mr Turnbull told reporters earlier on Monday he had the confidence of Mr Dutton, the cabinet and the partyroom.
Adding to the prime minister’s woes are a string of poor poll results.
The coalition has lagged Labor in 38 successive Newspolls, eight more than Tony Abbott’s record. However, Mr Turnbull has consistently rated higher than Bill Shorten as preferred prime minister.
Asked whether Labor would prefer to face Mr Turnbull or Mr Dutton at the next election, shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said the opposition was ‘ready for any eventuality’.