Malcolm Turnbull has talked down the prospect of another coalition MP defection following reports Queensland MP George Christensen could call it quits.
Mr Christensen reportedly penned a resignation letter this week after becoming furious about government inaction over an ongoing row between a foreign-owned sugar mill and cane growers in his Queensland electorate.
The backbencher warned he will do “whatever it takes” – including defecting to the crossbench – to ensure the establishment of a mandatory sugar industry code of conduct with enforceable penalties.
“This issue is the most important one to confront me in my six years in politics and that’s why I’m committed to doing whatever it takes to get an outcome,” he told News Corp Australia on Friday.
“If it takes ruffling a few feathers here, crossing the floor or going rogue to get an outcome, then you just have to do it.”
The government holds onto office with a one-seat majority in the lower house, making any MP defection disastrous.
Asked about the report, Mr Turnbull said: “I’ve never seen any indication that he is anything other than a committed member of the coalition party room.”
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann insisted the MP was loyal and made clear he would remain in the coalition.
“He’s standing up for his electorate, he’s standing up for his constituents. That’s his job,” he said.
Queensland Labor senator Murray Watt said Mr Christensen had become a laughing stock and challenged him to quit his party.
“Every day of the week he comes up with a different threat and he never follows through,” Senator Watt told reporters in Canberra.
“He’s like a kid who keeps threatening to his parents to run away from home but then comes crawling back to his bedroom and hides under his blanket again.”
George Christensen threatens to quit the Liberal Party if his 34,721 previous threats to quit are not taken seriously.
— Sir Walter Slurrie (@WilmaSlurrie) February 16, 2017
Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce said he spoke with Mr Christensen on Thursday night and he remained loyal to the party.
“We are good mates. He is loyal to me. I hope and I believe that George will be loyal to his nation and stick with a good government,” he told the ABC.
Mr Christensen said in a lengthy podcast interview, The Convict Report, the government was not addressing “bread and butter issues that concern everyday people”.
“Along with that, though, is concern about things like national security, immigration levels, our culture … people want leaders to be standing up,” he said.
“We haven’t seen that sort of leadership for a long while.”
Leadership was also on the mind of former prime minister Tony Abbott who told radio 2GB on Friday voters were warming to politicians such as Pauline Hanson because she was listening to people.
“What the public want are leaders who look at the problems honestly, speak clearly and offer straightforward solutions,” Mr Abbott said.
“Sadly they don’t at the moment think they are always getting that from the political establishment.”