Australian prime minister could quit Friday

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will have to watch his back after Peter Dutton announced he is working on

Senior ministers Mathias Cormann, Michaelia Cash and Mitch Fifield told Turnbull on Thursday that he had lost his government's support and must hold a ballot of conservative Liberal Party lawmakers to elect a new leader quickly.

The ministers, who supported Mr Turnbull in a leadership ballot on Tuesday against former home affairs minister Peter Dutton, said they had changed their position and now backed Mr Dutton.

He demanded Mr Dutton get at least 43 signatures to force a leadership spill - and promised to quit as prime minister if it goes ahead.

Turnbull said if he received the letter requesting a fresh vote, he would call a party meeting for midday on Friday (9am, Bangkok).

"The party room endorses Malcolm Turnbull as their leader and that's where it stands".

Treasurer Scott Morrison also pledged to challenge for the top job, local media reported.

Dutton said he was canvassing for support to take another tilt at Turnbull, possibly as early as this week.

Peter Dutton from Austin, Texas (left) has been inundated with messages since the Liberal leadership challenge got underway.

"I can not underline too much how important it is that anyone who seeks to be prime minister of Australia is eligible to be a member of parliament", Turnbull said.

Opposition Labor Party leader Bill Shorten told Parliament it was evidence that "Australia no longer has a functioning government".

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Mr Turnbull won the party-room vote 48-35 but the narrow margin of the victory made another challenge nearly certain in a country that has earned a reputation for a revolving door of political leaders, with six prime ministers since 2009.

However, he said if his colleagues at the meeting told him they wanted a vote, he would not contest his job and would leave parliament.

If a three-way vote is held, whoever comes last in the first round of voting will be eliminated, and then a second round of voting will decide who becomes the prime minister.

All seven had tendered their resignations to Turnbull, who refused them in an attempt to show unity and later said he had been given "unequivocal assurances of continuing loyalty".

Dutton and his supporters, including former prime minister Tony Abbott who once described climate change as "absolute crap", argue that keeping power prices down was more important than meeting Canberra's commitment to slash carbon emissions by 26 percent by 2030.

"Australians will be rightly appalled by what they're witnessing in their nation's parliament today and in the course of this week", Mr Turnbull told reporters.

The government adjourned the lower house on Thursday afternoon, suggesting that Turnbull's priorities lay with handling the latest party mutiny.

In a frantic Thursday morning, Australia's opposition parties lost a parliament vote that would have forced a court to determine whether Dutton is eligible for the premiership.

The government shut down the House of Representatives but does not command the numbers in the Senate so had to endure question time with senior ministers who had resigned on the backbench.

The Solicitor-General has spent the night considering whether Mr Dutton's financial interest in two childcare centres that receive government subsidies makes him ineligible to sit in Parliament.

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