CANBERRA (BLOOMBERG, AFP) - Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's battle to retain power took a knock Friday (March 1) amid media reports that two senior Cabinet lawmakers are set to announce they will quit politics at the upcoming election.
Christopher Pyne and Steven Ciobo, who hold the defence and defence industry portfolios respectively, will announce as early as this weekend that they won't re-contest their seats, Sky News and the Australian Financial Review reported, without saying where they got the information.
They'd join an exodus of senior lawmakers, fueling perceptions that Mr Morrison's government is heading for defeat.
His Liberal-National coalition trails the opposition Labor party in opinion polls and is entering a critical period as May elections loom.
Current polls show the Liberals heading for their worst electoral defeat since 1983 and Australia getting a seventh change of prime minister in ten years.
Conservatives inside the party ousted centrist prime minister Malcolm Turnbull last August and Mr Morrison has since led the party hard to the right.
Before high-profile former foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop announced last month she won't re-contest her seat, three other coalition ministers said they'll leave politics at the election.
Several backbench Liberal MP’s have also announced they won’t contest the next election, or will do so as independents.
At a press conference Friday, Mr Morrison said the reports were "speculation" and declined to comment further.
Media representatives for Mr Pyne and Mr Ciobo didn't immediately respond to calls seeking comment.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten leapt on the news as more evidence that the government is in trouble.
“I say to Australians: If the ministers in the government are giving up on the government, you should too” he was quoted by public broadcaster SBS as saying.