Speculation of an imminent leadership challenge to Tony Abbott was again building on Friday.
Although Mr Abbott was successful in defeating the spill vote against his leadership some three weeks ago, his standing amongst his party colleagues does not appear to have improved. Rather, it appears to be irrevocably slipping away.
It is understood that while backbenchers led the last revolt, this time they are looking to Cabinet to make the move.
As the prime minister visited New Zealand, it was being reported that Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull now had the numbers in caucus to be successful should he make the challenge.
Some key business and media supporters are also said to be abandoning the Abbott ship.
Former News Limited heavyweight, now Head of Prime Media and confessed Abbott admirer, John Hartigan, said Tony Abbott’s opportunity was “gone”.
“Even his strongest supporters are now detractors,” Mr Hartigan told Fairfax Media.
Before departing for New Zealand on Friday, when asked about his leadership, Mr Abbott revived his assertion that as the leader who took the party to the election and won he has a mandate from the people to be prime minister.
When queried about the PM’s comment, two senior coalition ministers – who may be candidates themselves in any successful spill – pointedly rebuked Mr Abbott’s notion of a public mandate for his leadership.
“Well it is a matter for colleagues, as John Howard said ‘who leads the party is always a gift of the party room’,” Social Services Minister Scott Morrison told Fairfax Radio’s Neil Mitchell on Friday.
“Remember, our party room is made up of people who are elected by their constituents, so that’s how the system works and I think anyone who pretends differently is kidding themselves. What proves success in government and in politics is performance and competence and that’s what we’re focused on.”
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, visiting New Zealand alongside the PM, said: “It is self-evident that the individual members of the party room are able to elect the leader and the deputy leader of the Liberal party. That has always been the case. I imagine it will continue to be the case.”
Asked if she would in the event of a leadership spill, Ms Bishop replied: “These are hypothetical questions and this is all based on speculation and rumour.”
IMAGE: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, left, and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key make the opening remarks for the Trans-Tasman 2015 Gala Dinner on February 27, 2015 in Auckland. Speculation about Mr Abbott’s leadership is again mounting. (Photo by Dave Rowland/Getty Images)