Australian PM stubbornly clings to power, offers possible second leadership vote

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at a news conference at Parliament House in Canberra Australia

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at a news conference at Parliament House in Canberra Australia

Malcolm Turnbull speaking to media at Parliament House in Canberra yesterday.

A defiant Malcolm Turnbull is clinging on to Australia's prime ministership but challengers are close to securing the 43 signatures needed to force a leadership spill.

Turnbull, whose Liberal Party is the senior partner in the coalition government, had won a party-room vote by 48 to 35 on Tuesday, but the unconvincing victory had left him vulnerable to another challenge.

"I was wanting to continue to support Malcolm Turnbull for years to come as leader of the Liberal Party".

Cormann said he, Jobs and Innovation Minister Michaelia Cash and Communications Minister Mitch Fifield had told Turnbull it was "in the best interests of the Liberal Party to help manage an orderly transition to a new leader".

Another Turnbull supporter, Darren Chester, apologised to voters and said they "deserve better than numerous things our Federal Parliament has served up in the past 10 years".

Earlier Dutton told press he believed he had the support of the party - but Bishop said she wasn't sure of his claims.

Meanwhile, Treasurer Scott Morrison has steadied as the third favoured option for betting agencies, third in all six.

I've just been elected as deputy leader of the party.

Mr Dutton from Austin, Texas, was subsequently inundated with support from Australians.

Turnbull said the leadership crisis was an "internal insurgency" to move the Liberal party to the far right.

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"Earlier this morning I called the prime minister to advise him that it was my judgement that the majority of the party room no longer supported his leadership", Dutton had told reporters outside parliament earlier Thursday.

He said Turnbull has run an excellent government that had delivered record jobs growth and a strong economy "and yet that hasn't been good enough for his colleagues - well, for some colleagues in the parliamentary party".

If that meeting calls for a leadership ballot, he will quit Parliament.

If a three-way vote is held, whoever comes last in the first round of voting will be eliminated, and then a second round of voting will decide who becomes the prime minister.

"It is described by many people ... as a form of madness, and it is remarkable we're at this point where only a month ago we were being avid readers of polls, and we were just little bit behind Labor".

"Australians will be rightly appalled by what they are witnessing in their parliament", Turnbull told reporters in Canberra.

The uncertainty around the cabinet and the prime minister was fuelled by a separate review by the solicitor-general whether Dutton was in breach of section 44 of the Constitution.

Adding to the political drama, the government successfully suspended the House of Representatives at midday today, avoiding having to front for question time this afternoon, and the embarrassment of the pictures of up to a third of the front bench sitting on the back bench.

All seven had tendered their resignations to Mr Turnbull, who refused them in an attempt to show unity and later said he had been given "unequivocal assurances of continuing loyalty".

The opposition narrowly lost a vote in Parliament that would have sent Dutton to court to determine whether he is eligible to be a prime minister.

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