Aussie PM holds on for now amid leadership crisis

Anna Jefferson
August 24, 2018

Peter Dutton, then Australia's minister for home affairs, speaks at Parliament on August 20 in Canberra.

Senator Seselja is backing Mr Dutton to take the top job, having voted for the former immigration minister in Tuesday's Liberal Party leadership spill, won 48-35 by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

A second spill appears likely on Friday, with Mr Turnbull pledging to call a party room meeting at 12pm if he is presented with a petition showing majority support within the party for a change of leadership.

Mr Turnbull responded by saying: "What we have witnessed at the moment is a very deliberate effort to pull the Liberal Party further to the right".

In response, Dutton wrote a message Wednesday that begged Australian social media users to look at his photo before sending him messages.

"I am being pressured - beyond any comprehension - I am being pressured to put my name on that list so it can bring the party room to a meeting", staunch Turnbull supporter Scott Buchholz said on Friday.

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"However, while that risk can not be entirely discounted, it would remain necessary for the Court to identify an agreement in which Mr Dutton held that interest", Mr Donaghue said in legal advice released on Friday.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is the latest to face the prospect of not leading his conservative Liberal Party to the next election, due by May.

The government adjourned the lower house of parliament early on Thursday to focus on the leadership debacle, prompting opposition Labor leader Bill Shorten to tell Liberals in parliament, "Shame on you".

Legal advice prepared by the most senior legal expert in the country has cleared the path for Peter Dutton's tilt at the prime ministership.

He set a deadline of 12:00 local time (02:00 GMT) for his rivals to produce a letter with at least 43 signatures.

Whatever happens next - whether we have a Prime Minister Turnbull, Dutton, Morrison or Bishop - we can be certain it will not be sweetness and light among those who find themselves at the "out-group" when the dust begins to settle.

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"I can't ignore reality", Mr Cormann said as he announced he was withdrawing support for Mr Turnbull, adding that five other ministers who voted for Mr Turnbull on Tuesday had told him they were changing sides.

Despite voters seeming to want Ms Bishop, she only enjoys the support of four of her WA Parliamentary colleagues in today's Liberal leadership ballot.

The key question is whether childcare centres run by Dutton's wife - and owned by a family trust of which he is a beneficiary - are party to an "agreement" with the Commonwealth.

Mr Dutton's case was unlike previous tests of Section 44, he said, and the seven justices of the High Court were clearly divided over the section's interpretation.

In a frantic Thursday morning, Australia's opposition parties lost a parliament vote that would have forced a court to determine whether Dutton is eligible for the premiership.

Such a pending court case could scare lawmakers away from supporting Dutton in a leadership ballot.

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