Tony Abbott has warned his ministers any breakdown in discipline will damage the government’s chances of re-election.
The prime minister read the riot act to cabinet ministers and the wider coalition party room on Tuesday as the government’s standing in the polls is battered by a ministerial split over same-sex marriage.
The coalition has trailed Labor in polls for the best part of 16 months and the same-sex marriage split has damaged it further.
Mr Abbott told a coalition party room meeting on Tuesday all MPs needed to be more disciplined from the cabinet down.
The pulse of voter opinion will be taken at the Canning by-election in Western Australia on September 19, brought about by the death of sitting Liberal MP Don Randall.
Mr Abbott told his cabinet on Monday and the joint party room on Tuesday that ministers and backbenchers owe it to their colleagues, especially those holding marginal seats, to show discipline.
Ann Sudmalis, who holds the marginal NSW seat of Gilmore, said the same-sex marriage debate – in which ministers openly disagreed over a national vote – was not helping MPs such as herself.
Mr Abbott said the Liberals had pre-selected an outstanding candidate for Canning, former SAS soldier Andrew Hastie.
A Newspoll suggests Mr Hastie is expected to win the seat, which the party holds by 11.8 per cent, but the government could face a swing against it of 10 per cent.
Mr Abbott said the government will have a strong message to take to the by-election while Labor is talking about “clobbering” jobs by opposing the China free trade agreement and wanting to bring back a carbon tax.
He promised to take a proposal to cabinet soon on how to put the issue of same-sex marriage to a national vote.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told the Labor caucus the government is a “rabble” and Mr Abbott’s leadership is under pressure.
“They will be wondering whether it’s time to give up on a captain’s pick and instead pick a new captain,” he said.
In February, 39 Liberal MPs voted in favour of a spill of Mr Abbott’s leadership but fell short of the majority needed to bring it on.
Parliamentary secretary Steve Ciobo said there is “always chatter” and conversations about such matters.
Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said John Howard was able to turn his government’s fortunes around in 2001 and 2004 when he was prime minister despite lagging behind Labor in the polls.
“Sure, we need to get the debate back to growth and jobs,” he said.
“But we can turn the ship around and I think Tony Abbott will retain the prime ministership and lead us to victory at the next election.”