Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership crisis deepens as Greg Hunt, Steve Ciobo also offer resignations

CANBERRA, 22 AUGUST 2018 (ABC) – Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministership is in crisis, with 10 of his front-bench offering to resign.

The ABC understands Cabinet ministers Greg Hunt, Michael Keenan and Steve Ciobo, as well as Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge, are the latest frontbenchers to offer their resignations, but they have not been accepted.

Former Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton quit Tuesday after  Turnbull narrowly fended off his leadership challenge by seven votes.

He continues to keep pressure on Turnbull by refusing to rule out another challenge, with his supporters saying it is likely.

International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells also resigned, firing a parting shot in which she accused the Government of straying too far to left.

Another five junior ministers have also offered their resignations, creating a reshuffle headache for Turnbull should he accept. But so far he has not agreed to their offers.

One source close to Dutton believes another two or three Liberals have drifted to Dutton overnight.

That would leave the new backbencher just four or five votes short of the 42 he needs to seize the leadership.

The Prime Minister’s defence strategy rests on convincing waverers that a win for Dutton means an early election that the party is not prepared for.

“We would be in an election by Friday,” one source told the ABC, saying the Coalition would start well behind Labor.

“We ain’t got the brass and we’re not battle-ready.”

Pro-Turnbull forces argue crossbenchers and potentially some Nationals would decline to support a Dutton-led government in a no-confidence motion, which would trigger an early poll.

Queensland Liberal MP Luke Howarth said he believed Turnbull would survive the week, and that the frontbenchers were obliged to resign.

“If they voted for Peter Dutton, that’s probably the right thing to do,” he said.

Nationals frontbencher Darren Chester has raised the possibility he and some colleagues could move to the crossbench if Dutton wins.

The ABC contacted several Nationals MPs last night but could not find anyone other than Chester contemplating such a move.

Queensland Nationals MP George Christensen advised against the move, saying the Liberal Party’s internal functions are not his business.

“When we had our own leadership troubles, I was very affronted at Liberals sticking their bib in internal National Party affairs,” he said.

“If that is coming from National Party people then they need to stick their bib out of internal Liberal affairs.”

Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce dismissed the idea as “silly”.

“I think that I will let the Liberal Party look after themselves,” he said.

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