Dutton Planning 2nd Challenge to Australian Prime Minister

Australia’s Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, left, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, center, and Treasurer Scott Morrison address media at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Rod McGuirk)

By ROD McGUIRK

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A government lawmaker said Wednesday that he is planning a second challenge against Australia’s prime minister after losing a leadership vote, ensuring that Australia’s political instability will continue.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called on his government to unite behind him after lawmakers in the ruling conservative Liberal Party chose to keep him as their leader 48 votes to 35 in a ballot on Tuesday.

Turnbull surprised his enemies by calling the ballot before his challenger, Peter Dutton, had time to lobby colleagues for support.

But Dutton confirmed that he is now sounding out support for a second challenge.

“I am not going to beat around the bush on that, I am speaking to colleagues,” Dutton told Melbourne Radio 3AW.

“You don’t go into a ballot believing you’re going to lose, and if I believe that a majority of colleagues support me, then I would consider my position,” he added.

Dutton has dashed Turnbull’s hopes of unifying the conservative coalition under his leadership ahead of a general election due by May.

But Dutton’s eligibility to be a lawmaker came under new scrutiny on Wednesday in a development that could scare off potential backers.

Dutton has said he received legal advice that his family’s ownership of two child care centers that received federal funding does not breach a constitutional ban on lawmakers having a pecuniary interest in an agreement with the public service.

The government has previously accepted that view. But Attorney General Christian Porter said the government would now seek its own legal advice after opposition lawmakers raised questions in Parliament on Wednesday.

If there is a case that Dutton breached the constitution, the High Court could disqualify him.

A government senator who supports Dutton’s challenge, Jim Molan, said he signed a petition on Wednesday requesting the prime minister allow a second ballot. But he did not know when that might take place. Such a petition would need 43 signatures to force a ballot.

“My understanding is that he decides when the party room convenes again for this,” Molan told Sky News television.

The next possible dates for a leadership ballot are Thursday and Sept. 11, when lawmakers return to Parliament after a two-week break.

Turnbull suggested he still has the support of a majority of his party.

“The iron laws of arithmetic confirmed my leadership of the Liberal Party,” he told reporters at a joint news conference with Treasurer Scott Morrison and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.

Both ministers also declared their support for Turnbull.

Australia has had years of political instability since Prime Minister John Howard lost power in 2007 after more than 11 years in office. No prime minister has lasted a full three-year term since. They have all been thrown out of power by their own parties in the face of poor opinion polling.

Darren Chester, a minister in the Nationals party, the junior coalition partner, has threatened to take away the government’s single-seat majority in the House of Representatives if Turnbull is deposed.

Chester said he and other lawmakers are considering quitting a government that was not led by Turnbull, which could force an election.

Dutton quit as home affairs minister after Tuesday’s challenge failed.

Another 10 ministers who supported Dutton’s challenge have also offered their resignations, but it is not clear how many the prime minister has accepted.

Turnbull said Dutton’s was the only senior minister’s resignation he accepted. It was not clear if Turnbull had accepted the resignations of junior ministers outside the Cabinet.

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