Malcolm Turnbull is steeling himself for the next assault, with Peter Dutton thought to be preparing for a second challenge on the leadership.

Turnbull's position as Prime Minister of Australia is looking increasingly untenable after he fended off Dutton's attack by just 48-35 in a party room vote.

The Government is now in turmoil, and its ability to get anything done severely damaged.

Four ministers who voted for Dutton have offered their resignation, but Turnbull refused to accept them.


However, the Prime Minister looks unlikely to be able to hang on long after 35 members of his party turned against him.

Dutton repeatedly refused to rule out another challenge for the Liberal leadership before the next election — which must be called by May 2019 and could now be imminent.

While the Queensland MP failed to oust Turnbull, he exceeded most expectations by managing to collect 35 votes — including Cabinet ministers — without an active campaign.

He stepped down from his position as Home Affairs Minister, despite Turnbull's invitation for him to stay, and was already working on softening his image.

Dutton told Sky News he "likes a drink", "has a self-deprecating sense of humour" and enjoys "a kid's footy game on a Saturday or Sunday".

He said it was "nice to be in front of the cameras where he can smile and maybe show a different side".

Twitter didn't exactly buy his attempts at rebranding himself as a relatable Aussie bloke.

His supporters were encouraged by the results of the vote, telling the Adelaide Advertiser Dutton can "easily" win the contest for the prime ministership with more time and a campaign.

A senior Liberal MP said the vote had come without warning. "Dutton will win in a matter of a few days, or at worst, a few weeks," said the MP, describing the vote as a stunt.

"Malcolm Turnbull is not selling anything. There will be a second challenge."

Another said the Prime Minister's condition was "terminal".

The ABC said Turnbull was "mortally wounded", while the Guardian called the situation a "political annihilation".

Labor leader Bill Shorten claimed Turnbull was "a Prime Minister in name only," adding: "If nearly half of his own government do not want him to be the Prime Minister of Australia, why should the rest of Australia have to put up with him?"

Shorten sought to move a no-confidence motion against Turnbull in Parliament yesterday, saying the Prime Minister "has no authority, no power, and no policies". It was defeated at 67-76.

But if history is anything to go by, the writing is on the wall for Turnbull. No Australian prime minister has recovered after a leadership challenge.

Former Australian Cabinet minister Peter Dutton hasn't ruled out a second challenge.
Former Australian Cabinet minister Peter Dutton hasn't ruled out a second challenge.

Turnbull scraped past his challenger with less than 60 per cent of the vote. Julia Gillard and Bob Hawke both performed better in challenges shortly before they were forced out.

Dutton was just seven votes short of being Australia's Prime Minister.

Some believe he could make another challenge within a week, while others say he may wait until the next sitting week, the second week of September, after Turnbull's expected slide in upcoming polls.

Dutton had said he challenged Turnbull to give the Government a better chance of winning a future election. Some believe the Queensland MP's leadership could be particularly valuable in his home state and West Australia — but it could cause issues elsewhere.

Victorian Liberals fear a change of leadership would result in a bloodbath for the Government and put seats considered safe at risk, according to the Guardian.

No matter what happens now, the Government is about to be plunged into chaos.

Pauline Hanson thinks former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott could return to the leadership.
Pauline Hanson thinks former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott could return to the leadership.

If Dutton wins a challenge, Turnbull may resign from Parliament, leaving the new leader without a majority and most likely calling an election.

The former Home Affairs Minister's popularity isn't where it needs to be for him to lead the Coalition to election victory.

Some have suggested an alternative challenger such as Julie Bishop or Scott Morrison could fare better as Liberal leader.

Bishop said she will not be running for the top job, emphasising her loyalty when pressed by Leigh Sales on ABC's 7.30.

"That's such a hypothetical. I mean, it's got so many hypotheticals built into it," said Bishop, who was re-elected to her position after Turnbull placed both their roles up for a vote. "No. I've just been elected as deputy leader of the party. I don't take that for granted, and I will do my very best to act out that role as deputy in support of the Coalition delivering good government for the Australian people."

According to some polls, the Foreign Minister would be the party's only chance of improving their vote, Sales pointed out.

"Peter Dutton made it clear in April that he wanted to be prime minister," replied Ms Bishop. "I think that was a signal to colleagues that he wants the job. I've got a job. I'm getting on with my job of delivering good government for the people of Australia, and supporting the Turnbull government in doing that."

Any new leader may have trouble forming a majority in the House of Representatives, where the Government has just a one-seat majority.

Moderates including Craig Laundy and Bishop could trigger a general election by resigning from Parliament, the Australian reported.

Laundy denied the suggestions, saying he "would not tear apart the party" because "unlike those attempting to tear apart the party as we speak, I genuinely care for it."

The ABC reported that at least three Nationals would quit the Coalition and move to the crossbench if Dutton succeeds.

Nationals Minister Darren Chester said some MPs would "consider their future" if there was a change of leader.

Crossbenchers Cathy McGowan and Rebekha Sharkie reserved their position on confidence and supply in the event a coup triggers Government MP resignations.

Three Liberal marginal seat holders will either not run at election or will resign immediately if Turnbull is rolled, according to the Australian's contributing editor Peter van Onselen.

A Labor frontbencher also told him the party could double down on their "Mediscare" campaign at an election if Dutton were Liberal leader, since he was the co-payments architect.

Battling to steady a sinking ship, the Prime Minister warned: "We know that disunity undermines the ability of any government to get its job done, and unity is absolutely critical."

Pauline Hanson said Mr Dutton would do an "excellent job" as PM, but could be accepting a "poison chalice".

She told Sky News she liked Dutton, and suggested his supporter Tony Abbott could also be a contender for a return to the top job.

"I think he's done a great job as Immigration Minister," she said. "I think he's a very matured, well-managed man and I think he could handle the position of PM very well.

"He's on the conservative side of politics and I think he'd do very well. People are saying we don't know much about him, I think he would do an excellent job. Very measured in the way he answers questions.

"I think Peter may be taking on a poison chalice here if he takes on the position of PM ... They're going to be decimated at the next election. I don't have a lot of faith in some of the others."

The One Nation senator also said Abbott was "speaking the language" Australians wanted to hear, and has learned from his experience.

"People say 'oh no, not Tony Abbott again'," she said. "In the situation that the Government's in now, and destined to lose the next election to Labor, astoundingly, maybe Tony Abbott would've been the alternative to take on this position.

"He's learned a lot from his first time around. He actually is talking about conservative, new coal-fired power stations, immigration, and he's actually speaking the language a lot of Australians want to be heard from the leader of this nation. I think Tony Abbott, if not Peter Dutton, should be given another chance at it."

She said Turnbull staying would help her and Shorten but did not benefit the country. "He's too much to the left and he's not representing the conservative views and opinions, and that's why there's this conservative revolt from the backbench.

"A lot of them are going to lose their seats under Malcolm Turnbull."

Immigration looks set to be among the key messages in any future challenge from Dutton. The conservative arm of the Liberal Party is already moving behind him and it will mean potential supporting from parties including One Nation.

"It's clear the Australian public have a view that the migration number is too high," he told Sky News.

He said his responsibility for immigration meant people defined him by the situation on Manus Island and Nauru. "I'd love to get everybody off there tomorrow," he said. "If I could have brought them to Australia in a charter flight overnight I would have, but I would have seen people drown at sea, which would have been tragic."

He said his move to the backbench would allow him to expand his discussion points, including the government's energy policy, as well as immigration and population control.