The PM met with key backers on Wednesday night as a petition circulated from Mr Dutton’s supporters calling on him to spill the leadership. Picture Kym Smith
The PM met with key backers on Wednesday night as a petition circulated from Mr Dutton’s supporters calling on him to spill the leadership. Picture Kym Smith

Malcolm’s number could be up

MALCOLM Turnbull is facing pressure to call a leadership spill today.

This comes after his junior minister and Queenslander, James McGrath - who helped knife Tony Abbott - ­resigned in support of Peter Dutton.

The Prime Minister met with key backers last night as a petition circulated from Mr Dutton's supporters calling on him to spill the leadership.

It is understood Mr Turnbull wanted to see more names on a petition before he would call a leadership spill.

The PM met with key backers on Wednesday night as a petition circulated from Mr Dutton’s supporters calling on him to spill the leadership. Picture Kym Smith
The PM met with key backers on Wednesday night as a petition circulated from Mr Dutton’s supporters calling on him to spill the leadership. Picture Kym Smith

Mr Dutton's supporters said the momentum was with them, pointing to the likelihood they had picked up the seven party room votes needed to topple Mr Turnbull.

Tacticians labelled the next 24 hours "#DuttOn" after Mr Dutton hit the phones to colleagues, some of whom say they were blindsided by Mr Turnbull calling a spill on Tuesday.

Dutton backers believe Finance Minister Mathias Cormann will now support his close mate given company tax cuts failed to pass the Senate and he is no longer shackled to the policy.

Senator Cormann did not respond to questions last night about whether he would switch camps from Mr Turnbull to Mr Dutton.

"I was very grateful when Malcolm invited me to serve in his Cabinet in September 2015. I have served Malcolm loyally ever since. I will continue to serve him loyally into the future,'' Senator Cormann said next to the Prime Minister yesterday after it was announced the Coalition would not take the policy to the next election.

Last night, he was in Mr Dutton's office.

Peter Dutton confirmed on 3AW he was doing the numbers and used FM radio to outline his favoured policy positions, which were rubbished by the PM. Picture Kym Smith
Peter Dutton confirmed on 3AW he was doing the numbers and used FM radio to outline his favoured policy positions, which were rubbished by the PM. Picture Kym Smith

A shift by Senator Cormann would bring votes to Mr Dutton and be a symbolic death to Mr Turnbull's reign.

It is understood Senator Cormann last night told Mr Turnbull he had lost a significant part of the party room.

Labor challenged Mr Dutton again yesterday over his childcare centres, which receive government subsidies.

It is believed Mr Dutton was preparing to release updated legal advice last night showing he was not in breach.

Labor said it had legal advice showing the opposite.

Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove has cancelled an event in Melbourne to remain in Canberra today. He would need to be in Canberra if an election was called or to swear in new ministers.

It comes as Scott Morrison said he remained loyal to Mr Turnbull despite reports MPs Ben Morton and Alex Hawke were openly doing the numbers for the Treasurer.

When asked to rule out a leadership tilt, Mr Morrison put his arm around Mr Turnbull and said: "This is my leader and I am ambitious for him."

Scott Morrison said he remained loyal to Mr Turnbull despite reports MPs Ben Morton and Alex Hawke were openly doing the numbers for the Treasurer. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch
Scott Morrison said he remained loyal to Mr Turnbull despite reports MPs Ben Morton and Alex Hawke were openly doing the numbers for the Treasurer. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch

Question Time was messy as senior ministers who offered resignations - which were not accepted by Mr Turnbull - were forced to pledge loyalty to the Prime Minister.

And in a public exchange, Mr Turnbull, who did not hear Trade Minister Steven Ciobo when he said he ­supported the PM's leadership, turned to the Queensland MP and demanded he do.

Ten frontbenchers offered resignations but only Mr Dutton's and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells's were accepted.

Mr Ciobo, Health Minister Greg Hunt, Human Services Minister Michael Keenan, Law Enforcement Minister Angus Taylor, Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge, and assistant ministers James McGrath, Zed Seselja and Michael Sukkar all voted for Mr Dutton in Tuesday's spill and offered to sit on the backbench.

Mr Dutton confirmed on 3AW he was doing the numbers.

"I need to continue to talk to colleagues because I want to talk to them about the ways in which I think we can beat Bill Shorten at the next election,'' he said.

"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. I'm speaking to colleagues, I'm not going to beat around the bush with that."

Detail from Sean Leahy’s cartoon on the leadership spill.
Detail from Sean Leahy’s cartoon on the leadership spill.

Mr Dutton also used FM radio to outline his favoured policy positions, which were rubbished by the PM.

He advocated taking the GST off electricity prices. "It would be an automatic reduction of 10 per cent for electricity bills and people would feel that impact straight away," he told Triple M. He said it would be a mistake to campaign on company tax cuts at an election and any tax relief should go to households or small businesses.

Mr Turnbull said the policy would be an "expensive" with Mr Morrison adding it would cost states $7.5 billion and the Commonwealth would have to reimburse the states.

 

Labor challenged Peter Dutton again over his childcare centres, which receive government subsidies. Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas
Labor challenged Peter Dutton again over his childcare centres, which receive government subsidies. Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

Bill Shorten yesterday wrote to Mr Turnbull demanding he put a "pause" on major decisions while the leadership crisis continued. "Given the events of this week … and the very real potential of a general election in the very short term, I write to request that you immediately cease taking any actions that may bind the decisions of an incoming government…," he wrote.

A snap SMS Morgan Poll last night revealed Mr Turnbull was more popular than Mr Shorten and Mr Dutton.