Liberal frontbencher Malcolm Turnbull remains favoured by voters to lead the party, as Tony Abbott seeks to settle backbench concern over the budget.
The latest Essential poll that asked who was the best person to lead the Liberals gave Mr Turnbull 31 per cent to Mr Abbott’s 18 per cent.
Treasurer Joe Hockey came in at six per cent, while 19 per cent of voters said “someone else”.
The poll was taken following leadership speculation triggered by the communications minister’s private dinner with Palmer United Party leader Clive Palmer and a furore triggered by conservative columnist Andrew Bolt accusing Mr Turnbull of disloyalty.
Mr Abbott denied Mr Turnbull, who was defeated by Mr Abbott for the leadership in late 2009 by one vote, had defied a request to co-ordinate meetings with crossbenchers through the House leaders.
“I’m not really interested in who has meals with whom. I’m interested in getting on and prosecuting the case for a very good budget,” Mr Abbott said.
Voters continue to be wary of the government’s budget sales pitch, with the latest Newspoll giving Labor a 54-46 two-party preferred lead over the coalition.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten maintains a 10-point lead as preferred prime minister.
Former coalition government treasurer Peter Costello said Mr Abbott would keep his job despite the dire public reaction to the budget.
“The Liberal Party does have the cult of the leader about it. Once you become the leader you’re almost untouchable,” Mr Costello told a leadership forum in Melbourne on Tuesday.
Mr Abbott faced questions from MPs in the coalition party room over the impact of pension and welfare spending changes, particularly on war veterans.
In parliament, Labor frontbencher Tony Burke turned a request from Mr Turnbull to the Speaker Bronwyn Bishop for more time to answer a question into a leadership jibe.
“I think that question is better directed to the prime minister,” Mr Burke said.