Malcolm Turnbull has refused to go quietly, demanding that Peter Dutton and his camp find 43 signatures to instigate a special party room meeting, warning he will leave politics immediately if he is forced out and repeatedly flagging that there may be issues around Peter Dutton’s eligibility to even sit in parliament.
At a press conference this afternoon, the Prime Minister indicated that he would call a party room meeting for noon Friday, and would not contest a ballot if his colleagues voted to spill the leadership. The timing, Turnbull said, would allow for a resolution of Dutton’s constitutional eligibility issues by the Solicitor-General by tomorrow morning.
He also noted that the government’s extraordinary move to adjourn parliament today was at the instigation of Peter Dutton, adding to the unprecedented nature of today’s events.
The plan for a Friday noon showdown also gives Turnbull and his supporters time to muster support for Scott Morrison, who is expected to stand against Dutton when Turnbull steps aside. Morrison is likely to peel off votes from Dutton, particularly given several Nationals have warned they will move to the crossbenches if Dutton becomes PM, and concerns that Tony Abbott would be rewarded by Dutton with a ministerial position for his treachery.
In effect, Turnbull has used all his remaining weapons to sabotage Dutton’s ascension, making sure it will be as difficult as possible, and guaranteed that a new government will face an immediate test of a byelection in his seat of Wentworth, which couldn’t be more inimical to Dutton. Meantime, Treasurer Scott Morrison will be hitting the phones to pull together as much support as possible, and Dutton and his backers will be hunting down the 43 signatures they will need to bring on the spill.