- Ten ministers, including four members of Cabinet, have offered their resignations to Malcolm Turnbull after yesterday’s vote on the Liberal Party leadership.
- Turnbull has only accepted the resignations of two ministers.
- Challenger Peter Dutton is expected to make another attempt to seize the leadership, possibly as early as tomorrow.
- There are also reports some MPs are threatening to quit their seats or move to the crossbench if Dutton becomes Liberal Party leader.
Malcolm Turnbull today finds himself in the bizarre position of having ministers in his Cabinet who have offered to quit after a wave of resignations followed yesterday’s attempted leadership coup.
The Prime Minister has only accepted two of the resignations, however: those of leadership challenger Peter Dutton and International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.
The growing list of Turnbull government frontbench ministers who’ve offered their resignation after voting against him in Tuesday’s leadership spill reveals how deeply divided the Liberals are as the party’s conservative right wing moves to seize control.
With Peter Dutton, the former Home Affairs minister, now on the backbench after falling just seven votes short of winning the leadership, three Cabinet members — Health Minister Greg Hunt, Human Services Minister Michael Keenan Minister and Trade Minister Steve Ciobo offered their resignations — but they were not accepted by Turnbull.
Dutton is expected to challenge Turnbull for the leadership again soon, possibly as early as tomorrow.
With Turnbull still clinging to power, ministers who have turned on him are now issuing statements saying they’re focussed on defeating Bill Shorten.
Party Room votes are a secret ballot. The Party Room has decided leadership of our Party. We must now unite to defeat Labor.
— Steven Ciobo (@StevenCiobo) August 21, 2018
Keenan said: “The Prime Minister has my full support. The important thing now is for the Coalition to unite and take the fight up to Bill Shorten.”
Statement from Human Services Minister Michael Keenan. pic.twitter.com/MtGfPndYhB
— Michael Keenan MP (@MichaelKeenanMP) August 21, 2018
The Assistant Minister to the PM, James McGrath, is among those on the list, along with Assistant Minister to the Treasurer, Michael Sukkar; Minister for Law Enforcement and Cyber Security, Angus Taylor; Assistant Minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation Zed Seselja. A 10th emerged late this morning – Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Minister Alan Tudge.
One of the few conservatives to stay loyal to Turnbull was Dutton’s close friend Mathias Cormann, the Senate leader and Finance Minister.
“I support Prime Minister Turnbull. I’ve supported him loyally since he was elected leader in September 2015 and I will support him loyally as his representative in this chamber until the next election,” he told the Senate yesterday.
The only other actual ministerial departure thus far is Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Minister for International Development and the Pacific, who released a scathing attack on Turnbull in her resignation, claiming she’d told him to replace deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop with Peter Dutton earlier this year.
Fierravanti-Wells claimed the same-sex marriage debate “eroded further the support of our base” and she was concerned “that the party was moving too far to the left and that we were losing our conservative base”.
Her resignation came less than five hours after she’d told the Senate that she maintained full confidence in Turnbull.
The letter from Fierravanti-Wells complained about criticisms of her comments by Bishop and that the party’s conservative base were not having their voices heard.
“They needed some demonstrable indication that there are conservative voices around your Cabinet table,” she wrote.
It is with great regret that this evening I have tendered my resignation as Minister for International Development and the Pacific. Attached is my resignation letter to the Prime Minister. pic.twitter.com/PmqW3tBYEc
— C Fierravanti-Wells (@Senator_CFW) August 21, 2018
But the level of dysfunction in the government includes threats by some Coalition MPs to move to the crossbench if Dutton becomes Prime Minister.
And the likelihood appears to be increasing with the ABC reporting that source close to the challenger believes another two or three Liberals threw their support behind Dutton overnight, leaving him just four or five votes short of a win.
Sky News presenter Peter van Onselen said that the government, which has a one seat majority, will lose crossbench support on supply bills if Turnbull loses the leadership, while three Liberal party MPs are considering immediate resignations, and two Nationals MPs are considering a move to the crossbench.
Two crossbenchers have confirmed to me they won't guarantee supply if MBT is rolled. Two Nats are considering moving to the crossbench because of the chaos. Three Liberal marginal seat holders either won't run at election or will resign immediately if MBT rolled. Early election!
— Peter van Onselen (@vanOnselenP) August 21, 2018
Nationals Minister Darren Chester is one of the few in the Coalition’s junior partner speaking out against change.
PM Malcolm Turnbull should be allowed to serve a full term. It’s up to the Australian people to decide our fate at the next election. MPs seeking personal vengeance shouldn’t corrupt the democratic process. We need to focus on the issues that matter to Australians. #auspol
— Darren Chester MP (@DarrenChesterMP) August 20, 2018
A combination of those scenarios could trigger an early election.
There’s speculation that an early election could be called by the end of the week, with bookies saying the money has now moved to an October election.
But even the Coalition’s election plans are in disarray, with candidates yet to be chosen and endorsed, and the party short of funds. Turnbull himself donated $2 million to the party at the last election.
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