Aust PM Malcolm Turnbull defies Dutton’s calls for second spill as Liberals spiral into leadership chaos

Peter Dutton says he will challenge Turnbull again if he's got the support. Picture: HERALD SUN

CANBERRA,23 AUGUST 2108 (ABC) – Australia’s leadership crisis has deepened further, with former Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton saying he believes Malcolm Turnbull no longer has the backing of the majority of the Liberal party room.

Turnbull has rejected Dutton’s demand to call another party room meeting in order to hold a leadership spill.

There have also been more frontbench resignations and a National Party backbencher promising to go to the crossbench if Dutton becomes Prime Minister.

“This morning I called the Prime Minister to advise him that it was my judgement that the majority of the party room no longer supported his leadership,” Dutton told a hastily convened news conference.

“As such I asked him to convene a meeting of the party at which I would challenge for the leadership of the Parliamentary Liberal Party.”

Dutton then walked away, but said he would speak again later today.

Cabinet Minister and Malcolm Turnbull backer Christopher Pyne confirmed Turnbull did not intend to call the meeting.

“The truth is we had a ballot on Tuesday, that clears the air,” Pyne told RN.

He insisted there would only be a meeting if Dutton’s backers produced a petition with 43 signatures on it to prove he had the backing of the majority of the party room.

In another bid to put pressure on  Turnbull, more junior frontbenchers are now insisting that  Turnbull accept their resignation.

Michael Sukkar, James McGrath and Zed Seselja, who were all assistant ministers, have formally resigned.

But to try to counter Dutton’s bid, Nationals MP Kevin Hogan said he would quit the Government and go to the crossbench if Turnbull was defeated.

Overnight  Turnbull’s supporters were ridiculing a petition calling for a fresh leadership ballot, despite some within the Dutton camp sounding confident of victory.

The new bid to put pressure on the Prime Minister’s leadership was launched last night, with a letter circulating asking for another party room meeting.

Supporters of former Home Affairs minister Dutton told the ABC they were close to getting the 43 votes they need to overwhelm Turnbull.

“We’ve already had one vote, we saw that on Tuesday, I suspect over time we’ll probably see another one,” LNP backbencher Stuart Robert said.

But fellow backbencher Jane Prentice said the petition, as of last night, had just nine signatures on it.

“I haven’t signed it and I haven’t seen it,” she said.

Just one Liberal was publicly claiming to have signed the letter — rookie senator Jim Molan.

Asked by the ABC how many others had put their names to it, the conservative replied that was “private”.

But another member of the Dutton camp said “there has been a big shift in support since Tuesday”.

“It’s going to become very clear … the Prime Minister doesn’t have the support of the party room,” the source said.

“He will have to call a party room meeting and Dutton will win.”

Some Turnbull supporters suggest the petition is part of a disinformation campaign designed to give the impression Dutton has momentum.

“There’s been rumours swirling,” New South Wales MP Trent Zimmerman said.

“You’d almost think there is almost a lot of fake Vladimir Putin news happening.”

Queenslander Warren Entsch is cracking jokes about the letter, asking: “It’s a French letter, is it? You need to clarify this.”

There were suggestions last night that several female MPs had complained to the whips’ office about being intimidated by pro-Dutton forces wanting them to sign the petition.

Turnbull supporters also report being bombarded with messages from voters warning against a switch to Dutton.

“Although I usually vote Liberal, should Peter Dutton become leader there is no way that I could vote for him/you,” said one email seen by the ABC.

“As a PM, we need someone who is capable, urbane, gets on well with people, and cares for others, and I’m afraid Dutton doesn’t tick the boxes.”

Many Queensland MPs believe Dutton would boost their prospects.

But one marginal seat holder noted: “He might work in bloody Queensland, but he doesn’t work here.”

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

Attorney-General Christian Porter asked the Commonwealth’s most senior lawyer, Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue QC, to investigate whether the Member for Dickson had breached the Constitution.

Network Ten revealed Dutton has financial interests in childcare centres that get subsidies.

Section 44 of the constitution bans politicians from financially benefitting from the Commonwealth.

Labor has released legal advice from prominent barrister Bret Walker SC stating that Dutton “was incapable of being chosen for the 45th Parliament and is not entitled to continue to sit”.

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,” Shorten told AM.

“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.

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