PM acts to stop infighting, Dutton absent

Malcolm Turnbull is trying to head off a fresh round of infighting over his energy policy that has led to leadership rumbles.

The prime minister gathered his senior ministers together for dinner on Sunday night amid growing speculation he could be in strife over the government’s National Energy Guarantee.

But his Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton was reportedly absent in what many commentators took as a “snub” and clear sign the party’s leadership will be challenged.

Some conservative colleagues unhappy with the NEG have begun drifting towards Mr Dutton as their preferred prime minister.

The leadership chatter grew much louder last week after Mr Dutton warned during a radio interview that further disagreements could lead to his resignation from cabinet.

In a bid to quell the bubbling unrest, the prime minister took to social media to propose a number of changes to his signature energy policy.

Mr Turnbull has promised to wield a “big stick” over electricity retailers who charge too much, and make it easier for power consumers to tell when they are being ripped off.

He has also offered to regulate – rather than legislate – Australia’s commitments to reducing carbon emissions.

During Sunday’s dinner at The Lodge, the prime minister was also expected to float the idea of abandoning big business tax cuts rather than fighting for them up until the next election, if they are defeated in the Senate.

However, it remains to be seen if these changes will be enough to win over restless colleagues, or whether they could potentially backfire by alienating his supporters.

Mr Turnbull tried to brush off talk of rising numbers against him in the coalition party room.

“I’m focused on getting energy prices down and I’ll leave you to all of the speculation,” he told reporters on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie twice refused to say whether she would like to see him stay on as prime minister before eventually saying “yes” when asked for a third time.

“I think Malcolm Turnbull is our prime minister and I would like to see him stay as our prime minister, and that is actually a decision for the Liberal Party,” Ms McKenzie told Sky News.

“I haven’t heard anything personally that would suggest that is not going to continue to be the case.”

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