Australian PM under pressure to quit as more ministers resign

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Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull under more pressure to step down
Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull under more pressure to step down

Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull was under pressure to resign on Thursday after another three senior ministers quit his government, just two days after the prime minister scraped through a leadership challenge.

“It’s with great sadness and a heavy heart that we went to see the prime minister yesterday afternoon to advice him that in our judgement he no longer enjoyed the support of the majority of members in the Liberal Party party room,” Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told newsmen in Canberra.

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.”

Their statement came hours after former home affairs minister Peter Dutton announced that he had challenged Turnbull to another party leadership contest, indicating that he was confident of victory.

Turnbull narrowly won a previous internal party ballot against Dutton on Tuesday by 48 votes to 35.

The prime minister now faces the choice of accepting the challenge, or stepping down.

“We cannot allow the situation to continue. It should be resolved,” Fifield said.

“We are very conscious of the seriousness of the decision that we’ve made,” added Cormann, a former top Turnbull ally.

“I did not want to be in this position. I have loyally supported Turnbull since he was elected and wanted to support him for years to come … But I can’t ignore reality.”

Cormann is known in Canberra as the “Kingmaker.” He voted for the more moderate Turnbull in Tuesday’s internal vote but is also a close friend of Dutton, a senior leader of the party’s conservative faction.

In the Australian system, the leader of the largest party takes on the role of prime minister.

“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.

“As such, I asked him to convene a meeting of the Liberal Party at which I would challenge for the leadership of the parliamentary Liberal Party,” Dutton added.

Another four ministers announced their resignation from cabinet shortly after Cormann’s press conference.

Health Minister Greg Hunt, Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge, Human Services Minister Michael Keenan and Cyber Security Minister Angus Taylor had all voted for Dutton on Tuesday and then offered to resign, but Turnbull had initially asked them to carry on in their roles.

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