UPDATE: 10.26am: House of Representatives vote against referring Peter Dutton to the High Court over funding of childcare centres.
In the latest assault on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, one of his biggest supporters Senator Mathias Cormann has now backflipped on his position, withdrawing his support and triggering speculation that the LNP leader “won’t survive the day”.
Minister of Jobs Michaelia Cash, along with Minister for Communications and the Arts Senator Mitch Fifield, also withdrew her support for the PM, during a tense press conference outside of Parliament House, in Canberra on Thursday morning.
Despite explicitly pledging his loyalty to Turnbull on Wednesday, Finance Minister Cormann said he “can’t ignore reality” and called on the 29th Prime Minister of Australia to schedule another partyroom meeting, allowing Peter Dutton a second run at the top job.
As well as ditching Turnbull as their preferred leader, the three Liberal pollies also offered their resignations from Cabinet.
“It’s with great sadness and a heavy heart that we went to see the Prime Minister yesterday afternoon to advise him that in our judgement he no longer enjoyed the support of the majority of members in the Liberal Party partyroom and that it was in the best interests of the Liberal Party to help manage and orderly transition to a new leader,” Senator Cormann said.
“The reason we came to that view is because of the number of colleagues who came forward, who supported Malcolm in the leadership ballot on Tuesday who indicated to us that they had changed their position.”
He added: “I believe that Malcolm Turnbull has been and is a great prime minister – I believe he will go down in history having secured amazing achievements for Australia, he has left country stronger and in a better position.
“But I cant ignore the fact that a majority of colleagues in the partyroom are of the view that there should be a change, I would not be in this position if we did not have the vote on Tuesday followed by a stream of colleagues approaching me.”
The press conference is being touted as the final nail in Malcolm Turnbull’s coffin as Dutton gears up to launch a second challenge. However Dutton narrowly avoided a referral to the High Court on Thursday morning over his eligibility to sit into parliament.
Labor MP Tony Burke moved a motion in the House of Representatives to refer Dutton to the High Court, after it was revealed that the childcare business owned by Dutton’s family trust has received more than $5.6 million in Commonwealth funding, which could put him in breach of section 44 of the constitution.
The motion was narrowly defeated by 69 votes to 68, however Dutton tried to preempt the attack by releasing the legal advice he commissioned late last year on his eligibility to sit in Parliament, which he says clears him of accusations that he is in breach of the constitution.
The Daily Telegraph reports that the advice, written in December by Sydney silk Guy Reynolds SC, says Dutton had not breached the constitution.
Former Home Affairs Minister Dutton was defeated by 48 votes to 35 in favour of Malcolm Turnbull in a partyroom ballot on Tuesday, but that hasn’t deterred him from having another run, yesterday confirming he would launch a second challenge.
The Member for Dickson, in Queensland, made the admission, confirming everyone’s suspicions, during an interview with radio host Neil Mitchell on 3AWon Wednesday morning.
“I need to continue to talk to colleagues, I want to talk to them about ways to beat Bill Shorten at the next election,” Dutton said, to which Mitchell replied: “You think that’s you?”
The former police officer turned pollie said: “Yes I do. You don’t go into a ballot believing you can lose and if I believe that a majority of colleagues support me then I would consider my position. That’s being very honest.”
Asked if he’s working the phones, he replied: “Of course I am, I’m speaking to colleagues. I’m not going to beat around the bush. Yes, I’m talking to colleagues, colleagues are talking to me. That’s the reality, I’m on the backbench.
Dutton resigned from Cabinet, moving to the backbench, following the defeat and was swiftly replaced by Treasurer Scott Morrison as Acting Home Affairs Minister.