‘This is an open revolt’: Queensland goes rogue
AS MALCOLM Turnbull desperately fights to save his leadership, the biggest threat is coming from one state - Queensland.
The Prime Minister has gone to extraordinary lengths to mollify restless members of his own party this morning, dumping the carbon emissions reduction target from his National Energy Guarantee (NEG) policy.
A number of backbenchers, including former prime minister Tony Abbott, had publicly pushed back against the policy, fuelling speculation Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton would launch a leadership challenge.
Mr Dutton represents Dickson, a marginal seat in the south east. He is one of several Queensland Liberal MPs facing probable defeat at the next election.
Now, in a stunning development, Liberal National Party Queensland president Gary Spence has urged the state's MPs to rebel against Mr Turnbull and install Mr Dutton as his replacement.
"This is somewhat of an open revolt," said Sky News reporter Laura Jayes, who broke the story.
"This will certainly send shockwaves through Parliament House."
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Mr Spence is telling the 21 LNP members from Queensland half of them will lose their seats if Mr Turnbull leads them to the election. He believes Mr Dutton could save every seat and possibly even gain some from other parties.
He has identified Kennedy, held by Bob Katter's party, and Herbert, a Labor seat, as potential targets for the LNP.
"He's saying that under Malcolm Turnbull, they're essentially cooked," Ms Jayes said.
She described the situation as "quite fluid", and pointed out that MPs would not necessarily follow Mr Spence's advice.
Mr Dutton, for his part, has publicly insisted he still supports Mr Turnbull's leadership, even amid reports he is considering resigning from the frontbench and launching a challenge.
When contacted, Mr Spence would not deny the reports, simply saying: "No comment."
But several Liberal National MPs and senators approached by The Courier-Mail said they had not heard from their president on the matter.
It is understood it is not the first time Mr Spence has privately expressed reservations about the Prime Minister to MPs.
Mr Dutton is seen by some in the Coalition as being about to fight back against One Nation, taking votes from the party's Right flank.
It would potentially boost his chances in Dickson, which he holds with a narrow 1.6 per cent margin, as well as in other marginal regional seats under threat from One Nation.
Despite Mr Spence's reported edict, some within the LNP have questioned how much influence his directions would have on the MPs decision.
There are still strong leadership tensions with one MP saying the "did not like the smell" of the current situation.
"I've lived through a few of these and I don't like the feel of it. There's a crescendo building up," he said.
At his press conference this morning, Mr Turnbull displayed no sign he doubted Mr Dutton's loyalty.
"Peter Dutton was at our leadership group meeting this morning and he was at the cabinet last night. He's a member of our team. He's given me his absolute support," the Prime Minister said.
Analysing Mr Spence's argument on Sky News, The Courier-Mail's National Affairs Editor Dennis Atkins reserved judgment on Mr Dutton's chances of reviving the government's electoral fortunes in Queensland.
"It is possible to see him winning back support the LNP in Queensland has been bleeding," Mr Atkins said, identifying conservative voters who currently support One Nation and Katter's Australian Party as those most likely to be won over by Mr Dutton.
"Whether that's all going to work for a net gain for the LNP I'm not so sure. I think that Peter Dutton has got a problem in southeast Queensland, where the voters are more moderate. There will be swings and roundabouts in any sort of change that happens."
Whether a leadership change would be a good idea or not, Mr Atkins believed it could happen soon.
"The Queenslanders are in open revolt," he said. "We could end up with a new prime minister by dinner time tomorrow night."
CHALLENGE 'ALMOST INEVITABLE'
Ministers gathered for an emergency meeting at Parliament House last night, where discussions focused on the NEG.
But the real action may have been happening on the phones.
According to The Australian, multiple MPs called Mr Peter Dutton over the weekend to promise their support, should he choose to challenge Mr Turnbull.
"It is now almost inevitable, the question is timing," one senior minister told the paper.
It also reported that Tony Abbott told a Young Liberals meeting over the weekend he was looking forward to serving under a "Dutton government".
Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph reports, Mr Turnbull's supporters were contacting their colleagues and urging them to stick with the Prime Minister.
Today Defence Minsiter Chris Pyne told ABC radio Mr Turnbull's announcements on energy policy would leave his colleagues "extremely impressed with the direction the government is taking".
Mr Pyne said Mr Dutton had not indicated a challenge would be happening and condemned what he called a "media parlour game" on the leadership.
As he spoke, the so-called parlour game was in full swing.
"It is very serious. Peter Dutton is considering resigning from cabinet and launching a leadership bid," Channel 9's political editor Chris Ulhmann told Today this morning.
"It goes beyond the National Energy Guarantee. The rumblings are about all manner of things, including, one said to me yesterday, 'Malcolm Turnbull is just not one of us.' There are deep values arguments that are being made. A lot of them might well be spurious, but this is a dangerous time for the prime minister."
Ulhmann said the people he had spoken to indicated they would make a move "sooner rather than later".
Former Labor minister Graham Richardson was even blunter writing in The Australian today, calling Mr Turnbull "a dead man walking".
"The only question on his leadership is whether it will be taken out first by the electorate or the Liberal Party caucus," Mr Richardson said.