Government ministers have moved to quell escalating rumours a leadership spill is imminent, following reports backbench rebel MPs are encouraging Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to challenge Malcolm Turnbull for the prime ministership.
The report, in News Corp’s Daily Telegraph, came after Mr Dutton himself was ambiguous in explaining his position on the National Energy Guarantee.
In an interview with 2GB’s Ray Hadley, Mr Dutton said if he found himself opposing the NEG, he would have to resign from Cabinet.
Mr Hadley, who is close to Tony Abbott, the key ringleader in the move to derail the NEG, said on Friday that the leadership challenge “was happening for sure and certain”.
The hashtag #libspill was trending on Twitter on Friday.
BREAKING | Ray Hadley confirms there will be a move against Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in the next two weeks.
— 2GB 873 (@2GB873) August 17, 2018
But while the NEG is causing problems for some Coalition MPs, ministers on Friday played down the report, insisting there would be no challenge.
“I’m not aware of any such talk, nobody has raised that with me,” Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told Sky News on Friday.
Another frontbencher, Christopher Pyne, said there was some “hyperventilating” from colleagues.
“The Cabinet is 100 per cent united behind Malcolm Turnbull, and in the party room on Tuesday only four people said that they reserved their right not to vote for the NEG,” Mr Pyne told the Nine Network.
The Daily Telegraph reports conservative MPs are urging Mr Dutton to quit Cabinet and challenge after he offered a lukewarm assessment of the energy policy on radio.
But Coalition MPs have told AAP there is no real push to get rid of Mr Turnbull, even though his energy plan is causing friction.
They said Mr Turnbull appeared sensitive to the issues he was facing, given he lost his leadership in 2009 over climate and energy policy.
Mr Dutton also faces a battle to hold onto his marginal Queensland seat at the next election, with GetUp spending heavily in Dickson in a bid to oust him.
A spokeswoman for Mr Dutton said the Minister was not adding to his comments on 2GB on Thursday. But the Opposition did weigh in.
“Dutton is just a glove puppet for Tony Abbott, back there on the backbench causing all of this chaos,” Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese told Nine.
In an opinion piece for News Corp on Friday, Mr Abbott outlined his plan to cut energy prices, including axing the Paris climate targets he agreed to as leader in 2015.
“If the Prime Minister had paid as much attention to his backbench as he does to the Senate crossbench, the government would not be in this current fix,” he wrote.
At least two Coalition MPs have promised to vote against the guarantee, including Mr Abbott. Others are reserving their right to cross the floor.