Malcolm Turnbull has seen off one leadership challenge but could face another within weeks as ministers who voted against him offered their resignations.
The prime minister defeated ex-Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton 48 votes to 35 in a snap leadership ballot on Tuesday morning, and then appealed for the party to unify.
— ABC News (@abcnews) August 21, 2018
“We know that disunity undermines the ability of any government to get its job done,” Mr Turnbull told reporters.
“We’ve got to put 25 million Australians first. They hate it when we are talking about each other.”
But he faced a flood of resignation offers from ministers who voted against him, including Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar and Cybersecurity Minister Angus Taylor.
Mr Turnbull refused their offers, hoping instead to heal the wounds, but he did accept International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells’ resignation after she wrote a scathing letter.
— Nine News Australia (@9NewsAUS) August 21, 2018
Trade Minister Steve Ciobo and Human Services Minister Michael Keenan released statements offering support to the prime minister after it was reported they had also voted for Mr Dutton, along with Health Minister Greg Hunt.
Mr Turnbull reportedly asked all three ministers to stay on.
Mr Dutton resigned from his position despite an offer to stay in cabinet, and he refused multiple chances when questioned by reporters to rule out another challenge.
Some Liberal MPs believe Mr Dutton’s failed challenge is the beginning of the end of Mr Turnbull’s prime ministership, and there may be another leadership ballot later this week or when parliament comes back in September.
But the ABC reported at least three Nationals would quit the coalition and move to the cross-bench if Mr Dutton becomes prime minister.
Mr Dutton started talking about his “lighter side” immediately after resigning from cabinet, and said his public portrayal as a hard man came with the immigration job.
“When you’re stuck in front of a camera talking about the serious issues of national security and border protection, it’s pretty hard to crack a smile,” he told Sky News.
Mr Turnbull called the spill after a week of leadership speculation from Liberals angry with his National Energy Guarantee.
The coalition has lost 38 successive Newspolls to Labor, eight more than Tony Abbott’s record. However, Mr Turnbull has consistently rated higher than Bill Shorten as preferred prime minister.