Prime Minister Tony Abbott is fully behind his treasurer, dismissing suggestions that some ministers want Joe Hockey dumped.
Mr Abbott says “not a single person” has raised the matter of Mr Hockey’s future with him.
He was responding to a Fairfax Media story on Monday that at least two ministers have told the prime minister the treasurer will have to go if the Liberal Party fares badly in the September 19 by-election in the West Australian seat of Canning.
“The treasurer is doing an excellent job – he has my full confidence and he has the confidence of the cabinet,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Sydney.
Mr Hockey said while there will always be “fringe whingers”, the story was a “complete fabrication”.
“It’s just gossip parading as journalism,” he told 2GB radio.
However, it didn’t stop senior Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos issuing a stern missive to his colleagues, telling ministers they should be working hard to win the by-election rather than backgrounding against a colleague to scapegoat a potential loss.
He said the two unnamed cabinet ministers who are reportedly urging the prime minister to dump Mr Hockey and calling for a March federal election should be sacked for engaging in such “deliberate leaking and destabilisation”.
“Holding out the prospect of a reshuffle and even a double dissolution election smacks of defeatism and a lack of focus on the substantive issues of governing,” Senator Sinodinos said in a statement.
Other ministers were quick to throw their support behind the treasurer, with deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop saying people should recognise the enormous task Mr Hockey is undertaking in repairing the budget that was so “trashed” by Labor.
Asked by a reporter to rate Mr Hockey’s performance as treasurer, Ms Bishop thought that was a “ridiculous question”.
“I don’t go around rating performance of journalists, I don’t rate performances of actors, I’m not going to rate the performances of my cabinet colleagues, it’s nonsense,” she said.
Senior cabinet minister Scott Morrison, who is cited in the Fairfax article as the replacement treasurer, said the story would be better placed in Who magazine.
“Joe’s a great bloke, he’s doing a tremendous job,” Mr Morrison told 2GB radio.
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said Australia’s economic woes are not the fault of just the treasurer, but the whole Abbott government.
He said getting rid of a treasurer “even as bad as this one” would be a blow to confidence and the economy.
“The treasurer should be replaced but he should be replaced at the next election with the election of a Labor government,” Mr Bowen told reporters in Sydney.
“That’s the way you replace a treasurer, not by the backstabbing and backgrounding we see from the highest levels of this government.”
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton agreed with Senator Sinodinos.
“People that can’t be part of the team need to leave the team,” he told ABC TV.