Published: Fri, August 24, 2018
Money | By Bruce West

Malcolm Turnbull: Australia PM's leadership on a knife edge

Malcolm Turnbull: Australia PM's leadership on a knife edge

Australia was readying for a new prime minister Friday after a revolt against Malcolm Turnbull by hardline conservatives in his Liberal party, with the former banker's near three-year reign all but over.

Turnbull's tenuous grip on power was under intense pressure Thursday with the man who wants his job launching a second leadership challenge in a week and senior ministers defecting.

He delayed calling the meeting until he received a petition showing the names of the 43 people who wanted a spill.

Mr Turnbull will step aside if he calls the meeting, inviting the candidates to battle it out.

Sources say Ms Bishop won't command almost enough votes to prevail in an open ballot, with even the majority of her WA colleagues - with the exception of Ian Goodenough, Melissa Price, Linda Reynolds and Nola Marino - set to vote against her. WA MPs Steve Irons and Ben Morton are understood to be backing Scott Morrison, with the rest set to fall in behind Mr Dutton.

The instability began when the center-left Labor Party in elections in 2007 ended Liberal Prime Minister John Howard's run of more than 11 years in office. Turnbull said the meeting would proceed once the signatures had been verified.

Other Nationals MPs angry about the potential switch to Mr Dutton include Damian Drum and the deputy speaker Kevin Hogan.

Turnbull tweeted half an hour before the meeting was due to start on Friday that Dutton had been provided him with the 43 signatures.

Voters expect that they will get to judge their leaders at the ballot box. "I sadly think we are going to see more of the same", he said.

Despite Mr Dutton getting the numbers for a challenge, there is no guarantee he will assume the top job, with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Treasurer Scott Morrison - both Turnbull allies - also in the running.

"Another day and another one of chaos from this government - a government that has effectively stopped governing because it's too busy fighting itself", said deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek.

No Australian prime minister in the past decade has lasted a full three-year term before being dumped by his or her own party. "I'm sorry. You deserve better than numerous things our Federal Parliament has served up to you for the past 10 years", wrote Nationals MP Darren Chester, whose party is in a coalition with the Liberals.

Dutton has financial interests in daycare centers which receive government funding, potentially falling foul of Australia's constitution that bans lawmakers benefiting from state funds.

"Given that today the subject of a member's eligibility was raised in question time and in media reports, I determined to seek advice from the solicitor-general on the issues raised", Mr Porter said in a statement issued just as word spread of the petition.

"You can't demand support from your people and then when the time comes for your support, decide that you've had enough of the show", former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce said.

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