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In a surprise vote of ruling lawmakers Tuesday, Turnbull defeated Dutton in such a ballot by 48 votes to 35.

A trio of Turnbull's supporters then then declared their support for Dutton, with Finance Minister Mathias Cormann admitting the "anguish" in the decision as he stood alongside Employment Minister Michaelia Cash and Communications Minister Mitch Fifield to announce they had resigned from cabinet.

Three senior Cabinet ministers have told Australia's prime minister that he has lost his government's support and must quickly hold an internal ballot to elect a new leader.

Opposition lawmakers reacted with outrage when the government shut down Parliament hours early so that Liberal Party lawmakers could focus on their leadership crisis.

"It's been described by many people, including those who feel they can not resist it, as a form of madness".

This occurred after Dutton publicly threw his support behind the beleaguered Turnbull last week.

After a morning of tumult, Turnbull scheduled a press conference, saying he was prepared to call a party room meeting for midday tomorrow, but this would be conditional on seeing there was majority support for a party meeting.

"I've made it very clear that I believe that former prime ministers are best out of the parliament and I don't think there's much evidence to suggest that that conclusion is not correct", he said.

When questioned if he would ask his supporters to back Treasurer Scott Morrison for the job if a spill was carried, Turnbull refused to answer, but said he would not give in to bullies.

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It doesn't. It is already within a whisker of becoming a minority government, a prospect that is likely if Peter Dutton comes prime minister and there is resulting movement from the government to the crossbenches.

"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 judgement he no longer enjoyed the support of the majority of members in the Liberal Party party room", Cormann told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.

It's now impossible to see how Mr Turnbull can avoid a special party meeting, as more MPs urged him to bring it on and resolve the issue once and for all.

Apart from anything else, the Liberal Party is so bitterly divided, the wounds so deep, its credibility so shattered, it will take years for the scars to heal. Julie Bishop is reported to be a potential challenger, as is Scott Morrison.

When asked what he would do if his actions of moving to the crossbench led to a hung parliament, Mr Hogan said he would continue to vote for the Coalition on money matters.

The opposition Labor Party said that "while chaos reigns, the country is not governed".

"There will be no question time today because they don't know who their ministers are. they don't know who their prime minister is", he thundered across the chamber.

Mr Turnbull expects the solicitor-general to provide MPs with advice on whether Mr Dutton is eligible to sit in parliament before Friday's meeting. It was the second-longest term an Australian prime minister has served.

In the case of Peter Dutton, the campaign had been going on for some time in the darkest recesses of late-night pay TV, a small group of conservative News Corp columnists and some Sydney radio presenters.