Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos has ripped into colleagues over their Joe Hockey 'scapegoat' comments

Senator Arthur Sinodinos.

Six months ago senator Arthur Sinodinos backed a spill motion against prime minister Tony Abbott, but today he’s launched an extraordinary rebuke of his Coalition colleagues following reports that they’ve been pushing Abbott to dump treasurer Joe Hockey.

The push against Hockey comes as the government struggles to retain the West Australian seat of Canning in a September 19 by-election, despite starting with an 11.8% margin. The vote follows the death of seat’s Liberal MP, Don Randall, last month.

Fairfax Media reported this morning that two cabinet ministers had been pushing for a cabinet reshuffle, suggesting Hockey would be a “scapegoat” if the Coalition loses. It follows News Corps national political editor Samantha Maiden’s mauling of Hockey on Sunday, speculating about Scott Morrison and Malcolm Turnbull as options to replace the treasurer.

Today senator Sinodinos, a former chief of staff to John Howard when he was PM, said Abbott should sack anyone involved, accusing them of “defeatism”.

“Ministers should be working hard to win the Canning by-election rather than backgrounding against a colleague to scapegoat a potential loss,” Sinodinos said in a statement.

“Holding out the prospect of a reshuffle and even a double dissolution election smacks of defeatism and a lack of focus on the substantive issues of governing.”

Senator Sinodinos is regarded as a widely respected “honest broker” within the party, so his intervention is notable as the government appears to be returning to the internal chaos that dogged the start of 2015 and have left it struggling in the polls, despite Labor’s own difficulties.

“The Prime Minister should sack any Minister or adviser who is engaged in such deliberate leaking and destabilisation,” Sinodinos said.

“Mr Shorten is the real enemy, not fellow Liberals.”

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