Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has declared his support for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his policies amid widespread suggestions the PM’s leadership is under threat.
Speculation was rife on Saturday that Mr Turnbull is in trouble after internal divisions appeared over Coalition energy policy and after a radio interview in which Mr Dutton said further disagreements could lead to his resignation from cabinet.
But he took to social media on Saturday to downplay any suggestion of friction.
“In relation to media stories today, just to make very clear, the Prime Minister has my support,” Mr Dutton tweeted on Saturday.
“I support the policies of the government. My position hasn’t changed from my comments last Thursday.”
In Thursday’s interview with Ray Hadley on 2GB, Mr Dutton refused to “bag the Prime Minister out” on air.
Asked if Mr Turnbull would lead the Coalition to the next election, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said: “Of course he will.”
“He has my support and I’m looking forward to working with him to make sure we continue to put downward pressure on power bills,” Mr McCormack told reporters in Canberra.
But Mr Dutton’s assurance did little to quell further speculation about Mr Turnbull’s grip on power.
Labor frontbencher Mark Butler told reporters in Adelaide that Mr Dutton’s Twitter statement was “half-hearted”.
“What he did not do was to take one step away from the inflammatory interview he did with Ray Hadley on Thursday,” Mr Butler said.
“It was on Thursday that Peter Dutton really started to set the foundation for a leadership challenge against his own prime minister.”
Deputy Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie also brushed off any speculation surrounding Mr Turnbull’s job.
“I don’t accept the assumption there’s a leadership challenge,” Senator McKenzie said.
The speculation came only days after Mr Turnbull had convinced his party room to support his national energy plan but then was forced into a humiliating backdown in the face of a brewing mutiny.
Dissident conservative MPs were livid the PM’s National Energy Guarantee placed its primary emphasis on meeting Australia’s promised emissions reductions as spelled out in the Paris climate accords.
With energy bills climbing, they say the price hikes will only get worse under the NEG’s plan to further promote subsidised renewable energy and move away from coal.
By late on Friday afternoon Mr Turnbull was in full retreat, with sources saying he would spend the weekend redrafting the NEG to emphasise lower power prices at the expense of the pledged 26 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030.
The leadership rumours, and resentment of party leadership, received a gigantic boost on Friday when it emerged Mr Turnbull had shared the NEG draft with Bill Shorten and Labor but not with backbenchers in his own party.
“If Malcolm Turnbull is the smartest man in the room, it’s a very small room,” one dissident Liberal insider quipped to The New Daily.
“He has mismanaged this from go to woe – and woe is where we are now.”