Malcolm Turnbull says he will wait for a letter with 43 signatures from party colleagues before calling a Liberal leadership meeting tomorrow at midday.
With the future of Australia’s leadership still to be decided, Mr Turnbull’s flailing government narrowly won a vote to adjourn Parliament, 70 votes to 68, at midday on Thursday.
The dramatic move avoided what could have been an embarrassing question time.
Parliament will now reconvene on September 10, possibly under a new prime minister.
Mr Turnbull said he would await on advice from the solicitor general about leadership challenger Peter Dutton’s eligibility to sit in parliament under section 44 of the constitution.
The Prime Minister said if the meeting went ahead and the spill motion was carried he would not be a candidate.
This is all about 25 million Australians, ” he said. “I am hopeful that this issues can be resolved.”
If Mr Turnbull did not stand, Treasurer Scott Morrison is expected to stand against Mr Dutton for the Liberal leadership in a second ballot, with Mr Turnbull to step aside.
The motion to adjourn the house of representatives was met with outrage from Labor.
“No government in living memory has said it’s all too hard, we’re just going home,” Leader of Opposition Business Tony Burke said, to interjections of “shambles” and “shame”.
“This is the ultimate admission of surrender, of a bankrupt government, of a failed government,” Labor leader Bill Shorten said.
Antony Green, the ABC’s election analyst, said it was a “de facto vote of no confidence” in the government, which holds a slender one-seat majority.
Almost simultaneously, the upper house, which kept sitting after the house adjourned, voted 34-28 in favour of referring leadership contender Peter Dutton to a Senate inquiry for his decision to use ministerial powers to save two foreign au pairs from deportation.
The issue has been in the spotlight since March, when it was revealed the former home affairs minister granted the pair visas on public interest grounds in 2015.
Labor and the Greens voted in favour of the move, as did Cori Bernardi, Tim Storer, David Leyonhjelm, Rex Patrick, Stirling Griff and Derryn Hinch. The Coalition voted against it, along with Pauline Hanson, Peter Georgiou, Fraser Anning and Brian Burston.
On Thursday morning, Mr Dutton confirmed he would launch a second challenge for the Liberal leadership.
Mr Turnbull is yet to comment publicly on the challenge, but has so far refused to call a party room meeting.
Tanya Plibersek told Parliament the day’s dramatic developments were the “funeral of the modern Liberal Party”.
We are witnessing history being made today, because this house divided cannot stand”
Reports Mr Morrison will stand against Mr Dutton were independently confirmed by ABC political editor Andrew Probyn, indicating Mr Turnbull may be ready to concede to Mr Dutton’s demand for a fresh leadership spill.
Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer is tipped to stand as his deputy.
The New Daily has contact Mr Morrison’s office for comment, and is yet to receive confirmation of the Treasurer’s intentions.
The new development came as three key cabinet ministers revealed they had tendered their resignations from the Turnbull government, urging the Prime Minister to call a leadership ballot.
Mathias Cormann, Michaelia Cash and Mitch Fifield told a media conference on Thursday they had informed Mr Turnbull he no longer enjoyed the support of the majority of his party room.
Senator Cormann, the Minister for Finance, said Tuesday’s leadership spill had caught many ministers by surprise.
“I, like others, was taken by surprise and I guess the reason we are here now is because that crystallised the views of the party room at that point,” he said.
The votes in the party room had clearly shifted, Senator Cormann said.
“I can’t ignore the fact that a majority of colleagues in the Liberal Party party room are of the view that there should be a change, and I would not have been in this position if we didn’t have the vote on Tuesday, followed by a stream of colleagues approaching me to express their view to me very clearly.”
Mr Dutton announced earlier on Thursday he believed he had the necessary numbers to seize the leadership.
“As I put out, by way of statement earlier, earlier this morning I called the Prime Minister to advise him that it was my judgment that the majority of the party room no longer supported his leadership,” he said.
“As such, I asked him to convene a meeting of the Liberal Party at which I would challenge for the leadership of the parliamentary Liberal Party.”
Mr Dutton also released a statement dealing with questions about his eligibility to sit in Parliament due to income derived from childcare centres, owned by a family trust, that receive Commonwealth subsidies.
“There has never been any doubt about my eligibility to sit in the parliament and I attach the unequivocal legal advice I obtained in 2017 to that effect.”
Nationals MP Kevin Hogan has said if there is another Liberal leadership spill he will leave the Coalition and sit on the crossbench, butting the government’s majority in doubt.
“The Liberal Party does not deserve my support,” he said.
The fresh challenge comes the same morning frontbenchers Greg Hunt, Alan Tudge, Angus Taylor, Michael Keenan and Steve Ciobo resigned in an exodus that also included Michael Sukkar and Zed Seselja.
The resignations mean 10 of 11 Liberal frontbenchers who offered their resignations since Tuesday’s spill days have now quit.
The only frontbencher who voted for Mr Dutton and is yet to resign is Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills Karen Andrews.
Mr Turnbull narrowly won Tuesday’s first leadership ballot, 48 votes to 35.