| 22.08,18. 12:41 AM |
Malcolm Turnbull hangs on with 48-35 leadership ballot win over Peter Dutton, reshuffle on the cards
Malcolm Turnbull hangs on with 48-35 leadership ballot win over Peter Dutton (ABC News)
The Prime Minister's political crisis has worsened with a total of seven frontbenchers offering their resignations — led by former home affairs minister Peter Dutton who lost a leadership spill this morning.
Mr Dutton resigned his Cabinet position and will sit on the backbench after the loss.
Human Services Minister Michael Keenan is the latest to offer to step down from his frontbench role.
But Malcolm Turnbull has rejected Mr Keenan's offer as he attempts to heal wounds within the Liberal Party.
Law Enforcement Minister Angus Taylor also offered his resignation because he backed Mr Dutton along with International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells who said she suggested months ago Mr Dutton should become deputy leader.
"I believe this would have been an important move for stability and would help to neutralise some of the more strident criticism," Senator Fierravanti-Wells said.
She was also critical the party had moved too far to the left and "our conservative base strongly feel that their voice has been eroded".
"They needed some demonstrable indication that there are conservative voices around your Cabinet table," she said.
Earlier in the day, Senator Fierravanti-Wells told the Senate she retained full confidence in Mr Turnbull.
Assistant Ministers Zed Seselja, Michael Sukkar and James McGrath also offered to quit today because they voted for Mr Dutton.
Senator McGrath is Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and was instrumental in the 2015 coup which saw Mr Turnbull replace Tony Abbott.
Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar, who is from Victoria and on the conservative side of the Liberal party said he felt compelled to offer to quit as a "matter of integrity".
Senator Seselja was Assistant Minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation.
The ABC understands Mr Turnbull is not accepting the resignations on the basis he would rather heal wounds and move on.
The only resignation Mr Turnbull has accepted is that of Mr Dutton.
That creates the extraordinary situation of leaving it up to those quitting the frontbench to insist that he accept.
As the resignations build pressure on Mr Turnbull there is also strong push back from some in the Coalition who are anxious about Mr Dutton becoming PM.
Nationals Minister Darren Chester said some MPs would "consider their future" if there was a change of leader.
He foreshadowed that any challenger might not have enough support to form a majority on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Mr Turnbull can clearly replace ministers who resign with other members of the Coalition.
Mr Dutton said this afternoon he challenged Mr Turnbull because he believed he had the best prospect of leading the Liberal Party to success at the next election.
Mr Dutton was repeatedly asked to rule out another challenge before the next election.
"What is my next step — what is my job from here? My job is to make sure I can prosecute the sort of messages I just spoke about and that is the only thing I am focussed on," he said.
He said he was grateful for the support he had received and proud that he had put his hand up for the leadership.
Mr Dutton also started the task of softening his image, telling journalists it was "nice to be in front of the cameras where he can smile and maybe show a different side".
Mr Turnbull won the ballot after forcing Mr Dutton to show his hand by declaring all leadership positions vacant as soon as the Liberal party room meeting started this morning.
The Prime Minister won the vote and his deputy Ms Bishop was the only candidate for her role.
But the result was so narrow it is set to create ongoing problems for the Government.
"We know that disunity undermines the ability of any government to get its job done, and unity is absolutely critical," he said.
Mr Turnbull thanked Mr Dutton for his "outstanding service", saying he did not bear any grudge against him and confirming he had invited his rival to stay on as minister despite the challenge.
"We have had a good discussion about it here in my office," he said.
"He said to me he doesn't feel he can remain in the Cabinet having challenged me for the leadership of the party, and so he is resigning."
Mr Turnbull announced that Treasurer Scott Morrison would act as Home Affairs Minister "pending other arrangements".
The PM's risky move may have backfired as it exposes the weakness of his position and the size of the split between the two factions of the Liberal Party.
Just yesterday Mr Turnbull said he had Mr Dutton's "absolute support".
Labor leader Bill Shorten took advantage of the Opposition turmoil moving a no confidence motion in Mr Turnbull.
"Today Australia has a Prime Minister in name only," he told Parliament.
"If nearly half of his own government do not want him to be the Prime Minister of Australia, why should the rest of Australia have to put up with him?" Mr Shorten said.
The ABC understands there were heated exchanges during the meeting with former prime minister Tony Abbott calling for the Coalition to have a stronger point of difference with the Labor Party.
Queensland Liberal MP Warren Entsch then responded to Mr Abbott using "very pointed language" and told him he was not helping the party.
The vote this morning confirms Mr Dutton has the backing of a significant group in the party room — mostly conservatives — to replace Mr Turnbull as PM.
The leadership instability continues a pattern in Australian federal politics covering nearly a decade, that began with the Labor government replacing Kevin Rudd with Julia Gillard in 2010.