The moment of reckoning for Malcolm Turnbull could come as early as Tuesday morning.
The chief government whip, Nola Marino on Monday afternoon cleared up confusion she had earlier caused by saying the meeting foreshadowed last week was off. A subsequent email confirmed a 9am gathering of Liberal members and senators.
Depending on who you believe, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton either has the 43 members he needs to end Mr Turnbull’s embattled leadership, or he is close to it.
Make no mistake, a determined campaign is on to oust Mr Turnbull.
It started with media stories late last week. The Daily Telegraph reported worried Liberals were ready to push the “panic Dutton”.
Adding to the momentum was Monday’s Fairfax-Ipsos poll that showed the government heading for a thrashing. While some believe the 10-point Labor lead is an overstatement, no one believes the government is in a happy place.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott has been urging his colleagues to back Mr Dutton. At the weekend he told a Liberal meeting he was looking forward to a Dutton government, where no doubt he would be restored to the ministry.
While Mr Abbott went out of his way on Monday to tell reporters the battle over the national energy guarantee was about policy and not personalities, his plea lacks credibility.
On Saturday on Radio 2GB Mr Abbott criticised the Prime Minister for actually capitulating to one of his demands not to legislate a 26 per cent emissions reduction target.
“It’s no way to run a government making absolute commitments on Tuesday and breaking them on Friday,” he said.
On Monday, Mr Turnbull went the whole hog as it were, abandoning a key element of his NEG by saying he would neither legislate or regulate a target.
Former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce welcomed the development as the death of the NEG. He is on the recent record saying Mr Turnbull should “reconsider his ability to lead the coalition to victory”.
But hacking down a sitting prime minister creates “turmoil” and “disturbance”, Mr Joyce warned on Monday. He appeared to be hinting at the difference between a bloody coup and Mr Turnbull gracefully bowing out.
Another agitator is Gary Spence, president of the Liberal National Party in Queensland, who has been urging his MPs who sit as Liberals in Canberra to ditch Mr Turnbull in favour of Mr Dutton.
The Prime Minister is well aware of the danger he is in and is in not game enough to provoke his critics. He rejected Labor’s offer to negotiate the NEG. He told Bill Shorten his invitation was not very persuasive.
“The honourable member will understand that in dealing with issues of this kind I will continue to confer with my colleagues,” he said.
Mr Shorten accused the PM of running away from his principles to save his own hide. It almost certainly will not. The shredding of his own credibility has weakened Mr Turnbull and done nothing to convince his naysayers to stick with him.
If no move is made at Tuesday’s meeting it certainly doesn’t mean the destabilisation is over. Rather it will continue with the lethal purpose of further damaging Mr Turnbull and the government in the polls, especially Newspoll.
Some believe a shift to Mr Dutton would save Queensland seats and possibly win two back, but not everyone is convinced. One interstate Liberal describes the idea as “madness”.
A Dutton-led government would be sure to make race and immigration a key focus of the election. His attacks on “African gangs” are a foretaste of what would be very brutal, if not ugly, campaign.
It is clear a growing number of Liberals believe Mr Dutton would play to voters fears and prejudices more effectively than Mr Turnbull.
No one, though, has turned their minds to how Mr Dutton will withstand the intense scrutiny a new leader gets.
Case in point, Monday night’s report on Ten News raising questions about his eligibility to even be in the Parliament.
But it won’t save Malcolm Turnbull.