Less than three weeks after Prime Minister Tony Abbott survived a party room vote, leadership tensions at the top of the government have emerged yet again.
The Seven Network and the ABC have reported that Malcolm Turnbull has been told he has the numbers to topple Abbott.
But a government insider and Abbott supporter says Mr Turnbull just doesn’t have the numbers.
He said this latest leadership speculation was down to the same few disaffected MPs as last time trying to beat up support for Mr Turnbull.
“The vast majority of people know we can’t win the election with Malcolm as leader, because with Malcolm as leader we would lose a chunk of our base and no party has ever won an election without its base,” he told AAP.
This follows the unsuccessful leadership spill on February 9 when Liberal MPs voted 61-39 to defeat a motion to declare leadership positions vacant.
That was without a challenger to Mr Abbott.
Mr Turnbull, regarded as the most likely leadership contender, didn’t stand or even indicate where he stood on the leadership.
The vote did show that internal disaffection – stoked by poor polls and the rout of Queensland’s LNP government at their state election – was substantially greater than even many government insiders realised.
An immediate casualty was chief whip Philip Ruddock, regarded as having an insufficient grasp of party thinking. He was dumped in favour of Queenslander Scott Buchholz.
Assistant infrastructure minister Jamie Briggs said nothing had changed.
“The issue was raised in the party room a few weeks ago. The issue was resolved and the government is getting on doing its job,” he told Sky News.
Liberal backbencher Rowan Ramsey said MPs were falling in behind Mr Abbott.
“We’ve had that day in the party room. Not everybody’s happy all the time but that’s life,” he told the ABC.
Liberal MP Russell Broadbent said Mr Abbott had been given some time, although there was no deadline.
“He’s on a test at all times – so every prime minister is,” he told the ABC.
Mr Turnbull declined to fuel the latest speculation.
“I’m a member of parliament so I talk to my colleagues all the time,” he told reporters.
“Really…..I’ll leave you guys to speculate about all that stuff.”