CANBERRA -- Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has refused to address the growing internal war within the Liberal Party relating to the renewed push to bring in same sex marriage in Australia, despite it leading to pre-selection threats and questions over his leadership.
Turnbull has dodged questions from reporters in Perth relating to a conservative backlash to a handful of Liberal MPs reigniting the push for a conscience vote. Brisbane based Liberal MP Trevor Evans revealed on Monday he will raise it next week when parliament returns after the midwinter break.
There are now anonymous threats to the Prime Minister, including talk of a leadership spill if a parliamentary free vote on marriage equality gets up. And there are there are pre-selection threats to at least one other pro-marriage Liberal MP. That MP, the member for Goldstein Tim Wilson, is standing firm and has described the move as "rash and ill-informed".
Conservative Cabinet Ministers insist nothing has changed and everyone is getting "way ahead" of themselves.
But Turnbull is trying very hard publicly not to buy into it, although he set off warning bells on Monday by stating the fact that Liberal backbenchers have the right to cross the floor.
Asked on Tuesday if he accepts the Liberal Party's handling was a test of his authority over the party room, the Prime Minister responded, "Our government's policy position on this issue is very, very clear and it has not changed".
"We went to the last election promising that the Australian people would have their direct say on this issue."
Earlier on the ABC, Employment Minister Michaelia Cash was asked if Turnbull's leadership under threat "If this does change"?
"Absolutely not," the minister responded.
Turnbull is now under pressure from the junior Coalition partner the Nationals to hold a postal plebiscite before the next election. Such a plebiscite, postal or otherwise, is regarded by pro-marriage advocate as pointless, a waste of money and likely to lead young gays and lesbians to self-harm or possibly suicide.
Asked by reporters in Perth whether he would now back a postal plebiscite, Turnbull responded, "It is not our priority to be focused and discussing internal Liberal party or Coalition matters here."
"Our policy is very, very clear."
"We have established processes through our party room which everyone is very familiar with."
At least one Liberal MP, Tim Wilson has been the subject of pre-selection threats if he crossed the floor over the issue.
He raised the issue on Monday night as he addressed his electoral conference. In a statement, Wilson declared he will not be crossing the floor by voting for a Labor Bill or motion. He said he would support a colleague's move for a free parliamentary vote.
"I made it clear I would not support a Labor resolution, but I would not rule out supporting one of my colleague's resolutions as I was elected with a free vote as confirmed by Tony Abbott last week. So far the feedback has been very positive, coupled with some dissent. Everyone has respected the unconscionable nature of asking me to vote against my own relationship, even if they disagree with changing the law. "
Liberal MP Tim Wilson
Wilson, an openly gay man and former Human Rights Commissioner, said he has always been clear about his position on same sex marriage.
"Outsiders may not appreciate how open and honest I was during my pre-selection and election on the issue, including my views on the plebiscite and belief in a change in the law.
"That's why they jump to rash and ill-informed threats."
Liberal MP Tim Wilson
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has told RN Breakfast the Turnbull Government's position has not changed and Turnbull has "strong" support.
"What I would say is the Prime Minister enjoys the strong and united and unanimous support of his Cabinet and I believe he enjoys the overwhelming support of (the) party room," he said.
The Employment Minister is also standing by the government's current policy for a plebiscite.
"Our position has been very clear since day one. Our plebiscite policy is clear and we have no plans to change it. That is it," Cash told the ABC on Tuesday.