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Under-pressure PM declares himself a conservative champion


Malcolm Turnbull has declared himself a champion of conservative issues, as senior ministers close ranks in the face of internal party tensions.

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It’s believed senior Liberals are agitating for the prime minister to dump South Australian cabinet minister Christopher Pyne from the key role of Leader of the House.

Pyne, a leading moderate, caused a stir after boasting of the supremacy of his Liberal faction on the sidelines of the party’s federal council meeting in Sydney last weekend.

He also suggestion the legalisation of same-sex marriage could occur “sooner than everyone thinks” and revealed he had voted for Turnbull at “every” leadership ballot he ran for.

Conservative Liberals are up in arms over the leaked comments, which come as moderate Coalition MPs work behind the scenes on a private member’s bill to change marriage laws and divisions continue over climate policy.

Former leader Tony Abbott has publicly expressed his disappointment with Pyne and declared he is in no hurry to leave public life because Australia needs strong, Liberal, conservative voices more than ever.

Turnbull is adamant his government is delivering “great Coalition reform”.

“There is nothing more conservative than ensuring you have affordable and reliable electricity,” he told reporters at the Snowy Hydro plant at Cooma on Wednesday.

Asked if he supported Pyne, the prime minister said: “I have an outstanding ministry. All my ministers have my support.”

Senior ministers called for greater discipline in the Coalition ranks.

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said former prime minister Mr Abbott was entitled to his views.

“But as for the party’s best interest and the country’s best interest, it does help when we are all promoting the achievements of the government and keeping some of our differences to inside the party room, rather than airing publicly,” Frydenberg told ABC radio.

Cabinet colleague and Nationals MP Darren Chester said politics was a “team sport”.

“We need to work together. Australians are focused on having a government that delivers for them. They are not interested in internal political games.”

There is now speculation of moves afoot to force a ministerial reshuffle to dump moderates George Brandis and Marise Payne in favour of conservative MPs, such as Angus Taylor and Michael Sukkar.

But Taylor said he wasn’t aware of this.

“Talking about reshuffles, and shuffling around the deck chairs is not my focus and certainly shouldn’t be the government’s focus,” he told Sky News.

Brandis, who is in Canada for Five Eyes intelligence talks, reminded colleagues the discussion is a distraction.

“I’ll leave the insider stuff and the political intrigue to Bill Shorten and the Labor Party,” he told ABC radio.

Labor leader Shorten said in Sydney the Liberal Party was a “circus” and voters wanted politicians to focus on issues such as penalty rates and housing affordability.

Abbott, Taylor and other Liberal members plan to meet in Sydney on Saturday for what is being described as a “call to arms for democratic reform” in the Liberal party.

The meeting is being held ahead of the NSW Liberals’ Party Futures Convention, at which an overhaul of preselections and other rules will be debated.


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