Turnbull says Dutton has given him ‘absolute support’

Turnbull NEG leadership spill
When asked about leadership spill reports, Malcolm Turnbull said Peter Dutton was ‘member of our team’. (Photo: Mick Tsikas/AAP)

Malcolm Turnbull says Peter Dutton has given him ‘absolute support’

Loyalists say leadership spill rumours limited to ‘usual suspects’ as Tony Abbott says stoush is ‘not about personalities’

Mon 20 Aug 2018 12.07

Paul Karp – The Guaradin

Malcolm Turnbull has boasted that Peter Dutton has given him “absolute support” as Liberal moderates claim disaffection within their party is limited to “the usual suspects”.

As MPs returned to Canberra all eyes were on Dutton, who has been on radio silence since expressing support for the Prime Minister but not ruling out a challenge on Saturday.

At a press conference on Monday Turnbull, confirmed Dutton is “a member of our team” and that the Home Affairs Minister had given him “his absolute support”.

In question time the Finance Minister, Mathias Cormann, expressed his support for Turnbull, as did deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop on 2GB Radio, adding that “the vast majority” still supported his leadership.

But Bishop refused to rule out putting her name forward in the event of a leadership ballot, nor did she rule out serving as Dutton’s deputy if he were elected leader.

“I am elected deputy by the members of the party room, so I’m not appointed some leader’s deputy,” she said. “I’m appointed deputy by the party room and I’m getting on with my job as the member for Curtin, the Foreign Minister and the elected deputy leader.”

Behind the scenes MPs were weighing up whether disaffection with the Coalition energy policy could be significant enough to trigger a leadership challenge.

One moderate Liberal MP told Guardian Australia that support is “still overwhelmingly there for Malcolm”, suggesting that some were “trying to inflame” the leadership issue over the weekend but the MPs barracking for Dutton in the Liberal party are limited to “the usual suspects”.

Craig Kelly, the chair of the Liberal backbench energy committee, said that there’s “no leadership challenge at the moment” and he continues to support the Prime Minister.

Kelly – a noted critic of the national energy guarantee who reserved his right to cross the floor in the Coalition party room last week – said that “showing you’re prepared to listen is a sign of a strong leader, and that’s what the Prime Minister has done” on energy policy.

Liberal MP Scott Buchholz, who holds the safe Queensland seat of Wright, told Guardian Australia that Dutton is popular in his community which is “ground zero for One Nation” because his record allowed the Coalition to argue they had “stopped the boats”.

But Buchholz said Turnbull had showed a “craftsmanlike” ability to pursue “what is politically achievable”, including compromises on the Neg which are “keeping a rump that weren’t happy in the tent”.

Liberal MP Warren Entsch, from the Queensland seat of Leichhardt, said it would be “bloody insane” to change leader this close to a federal election, but suggested Turnbull was “trying to satisfy everybody’s demands” without much thanks from Tony Abbott.

The leader of the lower house, Christopher Pyne, said he did not think there would be a challenge.

“I believe that the cabinet is 100% behind Malcolm Turnbull, including Peter Dutton,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“He’s a very valued colleague, a good friend, he’s very competent. I don’t believe he’s doing anything to change the leadership of the party.”

Liberal senator Linda Reynolds issued a warning to her colleagues not to pin the government’s performance solely on Turnbull because “a leader is only as good as the team he or she leads”.

“I’m confident that all my colleagues share the knowledge that disunity is death,” she told Sky News. “Once this issue is out of the way I hope, and I am sure, we will all be again focused” on explaining why government policies are in the national interest.”

The Education Minister Simon Birmingham said that cabinet and Turnbull government ministers are focused on lowering power prices, not leadership issues.

“I would urge everybody else – the handful of individuals who cause trouble – to think about the consequence of continuing to cause that trouble,” he told Sky News.

“I sat in Coalition party room last week – and I heard overwhelming support for the policies that we’re putting forward.

“It’s literally only a handful of individuals who decided to try to derail those policies.”

On Saturday Dutton tweeted that the “Prime Minister has my support”, but not ruling out a challenge.

Dutton added that his position hadn’t changed since Thursday, when he told 2GB that if “it gets to a point where I can’t accept what the government is proposing or I don’t agree”, he would resign from the cabinet.

The former Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Monday that the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is “the madness at the heart of all of our problems”.

Abbott told reporters in Canberra the stoush is “not about personalities, it is about policy”.

“It is not about him, it is not about me … the only way we can win the election is to have a contest on policy,” he said.

Pyne said that “to Tony Abbott’s credit at least he’s going public – he’s not anonymously briefing” against the Prime Minister.

[Read The Guardian article].

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