Economy

Malcolm Turnbull one signature away from showdown

Malcolm Turnbull one signature away from showdown

Australia's Finance Minister Mathias Cormann (L), Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (C), and Treasurer Scott Morrison address media at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, Wednesday, August 22, 2018.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's leadership looked doomed on Thursday after several senior ministers tendered their resignations and called for a second ballot.

Former home affairs minister Peter Dutton, an ex-police officer and right-wing conservative, said he was confident he now had the numbers to unseat Turnbull, considered a moderate.

To force the issue, Dutton and his supporters must produce a petition signed by a majority of ministers, essentially saying they no longer had faith in Turnbull's leadership.

"I am announcing today, that if there is another leadership spill for the position of Prime Minister prior to the next federal election, I will remove myself from the government benches and sit on the cross benches".

Of course, we still need to actually make it to a spill first - as Malcolm Turnbull made clear earlier today, he has no intention of calling one until he receives the signatures of a majority of the Liberal Party.

Contender: Treasurer Scott Morrison.

The instability began when the centre-left Labor party in elections in 2007 ended Liberal Prime Minister John Howard's run of more than 11 years in office.

"I'm speaking to colleagues", Dutton reportedly told 3AW Radio of the possibility of mounting a new challenge to Turnbull.

On Thursday, the prime minister lost the support of three key backers - a move seen by commentators as a blow to his chances of remaining leader.

Support for ousting Turnbull might also have waned because he warned on Thursday he would quit politics rather than ask his party again for its support in a ballot.

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"It's been described by many people, including those who feel they can not resist it as a form of madness", he said.

This comes after Australia's House of Representatives has been adjourned by the government amid a battle over the Liberal leadership, with Bill Shorten arguing the coalition is "irreparably split" and should hang their heads in shame.

Before the meeting, the Solicitor-General on Friday will provide an opinion on the constitutional eligibility to sit in parliament of challenger Peter Dutton.

Turnbull said the public would be "crying out" for an election because Australians would be "rightly appalled" by what they were witnessing in Parliament this week.

Furious opposition lawmakers argued against the motion to adjourn the House of Representatives until September 10.

Meanwhile, at least four cabinet ministers have offered their resignation as Liberal MPs position themselves in the ongoing struggle for control of the party.

The upper house Senate rejected the policy on Wednesday and Mr Turnbull said soon after he would no longer pursue it.

UPDATE, 7.30am: "TREATING the office of Prime Minister as a revolving door is demeaning to the democratic system".

Should Dutton's supporters manage to muster enough signatures by Thursday, the vote could be held before parliament breaks for a two week holiday.

The opposition narrowly lost a vote in Parliament that would have sent Dutton to court to determine whether he is eligible to be a prime minister.