Malcolm Turnbull clinging to power in Queensland
PETER Dutton was last night shoring up his numbers and is poised to mount a high-stakes leadership challenge against Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as early as today.
The Queensland conservative was believed to be tallying up his support, in a rebellion led by Queensland MPs, and if he has the numbers will personally move a motion to spill the leadership.
Those close to the Prime Minister said Mr Dutton was bleeding numbers, but others loyal to the Home Affairs Minister scoffed at the claims, pointing to what they labelled a "disastrous" media performance yesterday by the PM on changes to his energy policy.
Mr Turnbull yesterday said he had Mr Dutton's support.
"Peter Dutton was at our leadership group meeting … and at Cabinet. He's a member of our team, he's given me his absolute support," he said. "I enjoy the confidence of the Cabinet and of my party room."
Education Minister Simon Birmingham - a key backer of Mr Turnbull - said: "Peter (Dutton) made a very clear public statement of support for the Prime Minister and the policies of the Government. I take that at its word."
Treasurer Scott Morrison told Sky News the party leadership was "not an issue".
"This is Bill Shorten and others, and this is the media and, frankly, there are troublemakers on our side kicking up the dust," he said.
As backbench support for a leadership change was tested last night, Cabinet ministers were playing down Mr Dutton's chances of winning a ballot, and they rubbished his ability to cut through outside Queensland.
Mr Dutton's potential tilt at the leadership came as he was forced to tell colleagues he was not in breach of the Constitution - which would make him ineligible for Parliament - after media reports surfaced that his childcare centres in trust could be in breach of Section 44.
Under Section 44, parliamentarians are in breach if they have "any direct or indirect pecuniary interest with the public service or the Commonwealth".
Mr Dutton's office said it had legal advice that proved he was not in breach.
The curious timing of the allegations comes as LNP President Gary Spence was outed for telling LNP MPs he believed Mr Dutton would make a better prime minister than Mr Turnbull.
It is understood Mr Spence canvassed the views of five LNP MPs at the weekend and told them Mr Dutton would run a better campaign than Mr Turnbull. "You are asking me to talk about private conversations with MPs. A party president has private conversations with Members of Parliament all the time," Mr Spence said yesterday.
There was outrage among some in the Coalition, who accused LNP executives of giving the phone numbers of MPs to grassroots members and encouraging them to text and call urging leadership change.
The Prime Minister held another Cabinet meeting last night, this time to dump his $144 billion company tax cuts, viewed as a vote killer in marginal seats. The tax cuts are expected to be voted down in the Senate in coming days.
It is understood Cabinet discussed bringing forward further company tax cuts for small-to-medium businesses.
While businesses earning up to $50 million have already had their tax cut from 30 per cent to 27.5 per cent, over the coming eight years, it is scheduled to fall to 25 per cent. It signals a massive shift by the Government in messaging and policy - that it would no longer surrender political capital to big business.
The Courier-Mail understands the Government will instead consider taking a small-business tax plan to the next election.
It can also be revealed the Government tried to garner support for its entire company tax package by carving out the Big Four banks, but Pauline Hanson still would not support it. Mr Morrison lashed out at One Nation.
"Instead of encouraging businesses to invest, create more jobs and pay their workers higher wages, One Nation has voted for every single business - except the banks - with a turnover above $50 million to pay more of what they earn to Canberra,'' Mr Morrison told The Courier-Mail last night.