It is being claimed that Malcolm Turnbull has been canvassing backbenchers for support in a possible leadership spill against Tony Abbott.
ABC journalist Julia Baird Tweeted on Wednesday morning that two Liberal MPs had informed her that Turnbull had called them to ask if he had their backing in a leadership vote.
BREAKING: Two federal Liberal MPs have just confirmed to me that Malcolm Turnbull has called to ask if they will vote for him as leader.
— Julia Baird (@bairdjulia) February 4, 2015
The apparent revelation came as ministers, including Turnbull, were locked in a crucial cabinet meeting to nut out government strategy going into the new parliamentary year which commences next week.
The MPs who Baird claims spoke to her remain unnamed though, and according to Fairfax Media, a spokesman for Malcolm Turnbull has described the tweet as “inaccurate”.
Could it all be part of a strategy by loyalists to the prime minister to flush out the communications minister’s intentions and support?
Earlier in the day, it was suggested that deputy leader, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, was angry that her loyalty to the PM had been brought in to question.
Speaking on Nine Network’s Today programme, Education Minister Christopher Pyne said: “Well, Julie has been the deputy since 2007 and I think she was insulted a little, offended a bit about the idea that she wasn’t totally loyal to Tony Abbott.”
The foreign minister issue a statement on Tuesday declaring her support for Abbott and ruling out a leadership challenge. She was forced to make the public pledge after a leak suggested that she had declined to rule out a move for the leadership when directly asked by the prime minister in a face-to-face meeting at the weekend.
So where did that leak come from? If it was a strategy by the prime minister’s office to force Bishop to rule out a direct challenge or at least flush out her position, it worked.
Whether what the unnamed backbenchers told Julia Baird is genuine or not, it means Turnbull’s time has likewise come to declare where he stands and for his supporters to make themselves known.
IMAGE: Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull at Parliament House in December. (Stefan Postles/Getty Images)