Well, this is awkward. Pic: Kym Smith
Well, this is awkward. Pic: Kym Smith

One decision doomed Turnbull

PETER Dutton needed 43 votes to tear down Malcolm Turnbull - but this morning, everyone's eyes were on just one man.

A conspicuously quiet Mathias Cormann was holed up in the Prime Minister's office amid rife speculation about his loyalty to Mr Turnbull.

The consensus among political experts was that Mr Cormann, a highly respected figure in the Liberal Party and, as Finance Minister, perhaps the government's most effective performer, held the key to Mr Turnbull's survival - or his defeat.

His resignation would be a signal to other ministers that Mr Turnbull's position was untenable and they could comfortably switch their support to Mr Dutton.

Liberals reportedly believed he would bring another 10 votes into Mr Dutton's column.

Mr Cormann eventually emerged from Mr Turnbull's office and appeared alongside fellow ministers Michaelia Cash and Mitch Fifield at a press conference, where he publicly withdrew his support for the Prime Minister.

"It's with great sadness and a heavy heart that we went to see the Prime Minister yesterday afternoon to advise him that in our judgment, he no longer enjoyed the support of the majority of members in the Liberal Party party room, and that it was in the best interests of the Liberal Party to help manage an orderly transition to a new leader," a grim Mr Cormann said.

"I did not want to be in this position. I have loyally supported Malcolm Turnbull since he was elected leader of the Liberal Party. I was wanting to continue to support Malcolm Turnbull for years to come as leader of the Liberal Party. But I can't ignore reality."

Mathias Cormann announcing he had flipped to Peter Dutton’s camp. Picture: ABC
Mathias Cormann announcing he had flipped to Peter Dutton’s camp. Picture: ABC


Yesterday, it was a very different story.

Mr Cormann stood next to Mr Turnbull and Scott Morrison at a midday press conference, where he indicated in no uncertain terms that he still supported the Prime Minister.

"I have served Malcolm loyally and I will continue to serve him loyally into the future," he said.

His service to Mr Turnbull was undoubtedly valuable. He gave the moderate Prime Minister much-needed credibility with the Liberal Party's more conservative wing, was a strong media performer, and calmly negotiated with the crossbench in the Senate.

But he was always close friends with Mr Dutton.

Mr Cormann's position was a particularly contentious subject last night, as Mr Dutton's supporters circulated a petition in an attempt to force another party room meeting and a second leadership vote.

Some journalists reported Mr Cormann had already flipped and was supporting Mr Dutton's candidacy. Conflicting reports said he had visited the Prime Minister to say he was not resigning.

Mr Turnbull's backers claimed the rebels were spreading "lying propaganda" about Mr Cormann in a desperate attempt to build momentum.

But we now know both assertions contained kernels of truth.

Mr Cormann did indeed visit the PM's office in the afternoon, where he told Mr Turnbull his support had collapsed and expressed his desire for an "orderly transition". So he had, at that point, flipped.

But while Mr Cormann offered to quit then and there, Mr Turnbull refused to accept his resignation.

With Mr Cormann's view on the leadership a mystery to most people in Parliament House, even some of Mr Dutton's close supporters still doubted he had shifted - until this morning's fateful press conference.

Mr Turnbull needed Mr Cormann’s support. Pic: AAP
Mr Turnbull needed Mr Cormann’s support. Pic: AAP

It was a mournful moment for Mr Cormann.

Even as he effectively signed Mr Turnbull's death warrant, he spoke in glowing terms about the Prime Minister's record.

"I believe that Malcolm Turnbull has been and is a great prime minister. I believe that he will go down in history as having secured amazing achievements for Australia," Mr Cormann said.

"There's no question that Malcolm Turnbull's plan for the economy, for jobs in relation to our national security - that we all have been part of implementing - has left the country stronger and in a better position."