Is it on? Not yet, but:
- Malcolm Turnbull’s dinner with ministers in Canberra last night was held in a deepening air of crisis following the release of an Ipsos poll that showed a six-point fall in the Coalition’s primary vote and tumbling personal support for the prime minister.
- The dinner — which has been tellingly referred to as “the last supper” — was moved from The Lodge to Parliament House to avoid ministers having to take questions from the media on their way in.
- Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton showed up late to the meeting, adding to the speculation that he may be prepared to stand against Turnbull for the party leadership.
- One cabinet minister told The Australian: “It is now almost inevitable, the question is timing.” However, it’s unclear that Dutton would command the support of a majority in the party room.
- So as of Monday morning it is not fully clear that there will be a challenge, nor is it clear who might successfully secure support over Turnbull.
- A Fairfax report this morning says supporters of Dutton are claiming he has the numbers to win if a leadership spill is triggered.
- The current crisis has been brought to a head by sudden changes to the Coalition’s energy policy over the past week. Sunday’s dinner was to discuss changes Turnbull drew up on Thursday night to try and manage an increasingly vocal group of rebel MPs who are threatening to cross the floor over the National Energy Guarantee, or NEG, which is designed to ensure consistent supply for the national grid (excluding WA and the Northern Territory) while reducing emissions by 26 per cent and keeping a cap on prices for consumers and business.
- Turnbull released a video on Facebook over the weekend explaining his proposed changes, which involve taking the emissions reduction target out of the legislation — the rebels are opposed to reduction targets under the Paris Agreement being enshrined in law — and having it set by ministerial order instead.
- The rebel MPs — with Tony Abbott being the most prominent — are also unhappy with this because they argue a future Labor minister could dramatically increase the emissions reduction target.
- Adding to Turnbull’s problems, the deeply unpopular proposed extension of company tax reductions to big businesses are facing defeat in the Senate this week. Ministers at last night’s dinner reportedly discussed next steps on corporate tax, which has been a signature policy but has become politically toxic.
- All of this has left Turnbull open to a range of potent attacks: that he is no longer in charge; that he needs the support of Labor to pass energy legislation; that he is making policy on the run; and that he doesn’t stand for anything.
- The Coalition’s by-election defeat in the Queensland of Longman, which saw a drop of more than 9 points in primary support for the Liberal National Party candidate relative to the last election, has focused Coalition minds on the possibility that they are facing a complete wipeout at the next general election.
- Turnbull’s case to MPs is that he has presided over strong economic growth. The Daily Telegraph reports Turnbull and key lieutenants have been speaking to backbenchers over the weekend to plead with them not to turn against the Prime Minister.
- There’s a formal Cabinet meeting today after which we can expect further developments.
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