Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has survived a challenge from Peter Dutton. Picture: AAP Image/Glenn Hunt
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has survived a challenge from Peter Dutton. Picture: AAP Image/Glenn Hunt

Why another vote is imminent

MALCOLM Turnbull won the skirmish but not the battle to save his leadership.

The expectation is of another vote on who leads the Liberal Party as Peter Dutton - unharnessed from his obligations as a minister - broadens his appeal to colleagues.

Mr Turnbull sprung a leadership vote to quell the talk of an uprising, which could have seen him caught by surprise.

He won 48-35, which means about 42 per cent of Liberal MPs didn't want him as Prime Minister.

And he added to the ranks of Liberal critics.

That will be made obvious during Question Time as Labor points to the former home affairs minister sitting on the backbench, close to the former prime minister Tony Abbott.

There was no Abbott-Dutton campaign against the Turnbull leadership and they might not be frontbench partners should a new prime minister be elected.

But Mr Abbott's non-stop agitation against Mr Turnbull fed the Dutton momentum. The former prime minister pushed the iceberg closer and closer to HMAS Turnbull until jittery backbenchers started leaping overboard. And Mr Dutton was the nearest lifeboat.

Mr Turnbull has to reshuffle his ministry and be prepared for an even bigger wave of unrest should he not replace Queenslander Peter Dutton with another from that state.

The unrest north of the Tweed is a significant factor in the leadership instability.

In this process, Mr Turnbull will weigh the loyalty of some existing ministers. The 35 votes for Mr Dutton would have included not a few frontbenchers.

And the Prime Minister would also be calculating his options of an early election - despite spending most of the year insisting he would not go to voters until early 2019.

But he has to assure colleagues he has principles as well as policies, having just ditched his National Energy Guarantee in the face of Liberal and National dissent.

And the entire government should pay heed to the response of voters.

The spectacle as seen outside Parliament House is of a bunch of stumblebums on at least $200,000 a year who can't manage themselves and can't stop talking about themselves.

Many will be looking at candidates beyond the major parties. Even the chaotic One Nation will look good as a protest vote.

And Mr Dutton can be expected to spotlight his profile for voters who see him just as the stop-the-boats minister.

An Australia Institute survey earlier this year found his voter recognition was on the rise and hit 57 per cent, compared to 54 per cent for Treasurer Scott Morrison. It as a solid outcome for him, but nowhere near 79 per cent rating of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who was unopposed as deputy Liberal today.

Mr Dutton's reputation as a tough immigration minister has attracted the applause of a significant action of the national electorate and those unhappy with him would be unlikely to back him in any circumstances.