Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has rejected claims that changes to his energy policy are aimed at holding off a leadership challenge.
There is speculation Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton could challenge Mr Turnbull for the Liberal leadership, amid concern over the government’s National Energy Guarantee.
“I enjoy the confidence of the cabinet and of my party room,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Canberra on Monday.
Asked whether he had spoken with Mr Dutton, the Prime Minister said his cabinet colleague was at the leadership group meeting on Monday morning and had attended cabinet last night.
“He is a member of our team. He has given me his absolute support.”
Cabinet ministers Christopher Pyne and Simon Birmingham earlier threw their support behind the Prime Minister in the face of internal divisions within the Coalition party room.
“He is our best hope to beat Bill Shorten next year,” Mr Pyne told the ABC, of Mr Turnbull.
“I don’t agree with the assessment that any frontbencher is getting ready to challenge.
Senator Birmingham insisted Mr Turnbull had the support of the majority of the party room, despite his enemies stirring trouble on the government’s energy and company tax policies.
He urged a “handful of troublemakers” in Coalition ranks to pull their heads in.
“As long as we get on and focus on the things we are doing for Australians … there is no reason why we cannot get on and win the next election,” he told Sky News.
Mr Turnbull outlined a raft of major changes to his energy policies at a media conference before Parliament.
Among the changes, the Prime Minister said he was abandoning plans to legislate carbon emission targets through the NEG, which would be blocked by Coalition backbenchers in the one-seat majority parliament.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott told reporters outside Parliament House before the announcement that the debate over energy was not about who led the Coalition as PM but delivering cheaper electricity prices to Australians.
“It’s not about personalities. It’s not about him, it’s not about me. It’s about what’s going to give Australians the best possible energy system that delivers affordable reliable power,” he said.
Mr Abbott repeated his calls for Australia to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement that he signed onto as prime minister in 2013.
“I’m just interested in trying to ensure that Australians have the lowest possible power prices and that people’s jobs are safe,” he said.
“That’s what I’m interested in. And what that means is that we stop running a power system to reduce emissions.”
Senator Birmingham was among ministers summoned by Mr Turnbull to Parliament House on Sunday night to discuss policy issues afflicting the government.
Mr Dutton missed the dinner due to flight delays but arrived later to join discussions.
He is reportedly weighing up his options, despite publicly pledging support for Mr Turnbull on Saturday.
Senator Birmingham replied flatly “no” when asked whether Mr Dutton would mount a challenge.
“Peter made a very clear public statement of support for the Prime Minister and the policies of the government – I take that at its word,” he said.
In relation to media stories today, just to make very clear, the Prime Minister has my support and I support the policies of the Government. My position hasn’t changed from my comments last Thursday.
— Peter Dutton (@PeterDutton_MP) August 17, 2018
Adding further strain to Mr Turnbull’s leadership are a string of poor public polls.
Monday’s Fairfax/Ipsos poll shows the Coalition’s primary vote has dropped from 39 to 33 in just a month, and Labor leads the Coalition 55 per cent to 45 per cent on a two-party preferred basis.
Last week, Mr Turnbull lost his 38th consecutive Newspoll, eight ahead of Mr Abbott’s losses and five more than the previous record losing streak for a federal government.
“You have to recognise that when a handful of individuals decide to go out and argue against the majority – the overwhelming majority opinion of the party room – that’s going to have some negative consequences,” Senator Birmingham said.
The leadership chatter grew much louder last week after Mr Dutton warned during a radio interview that further disagreements could lead to his resignation from cabinet.
In a bid to quell the bubbling unrest, the Prime Minister proposed several changes to his signature energy policy, but it has been criticised by some as a “captain’s call” done without consultation.
During Sunday’s dinner in Canberra, the Prime Minister was also expected to float the idea of abandoning big business tax cuts if an upcoming Senate vote fails.