Thereâ€™s much speculation in Club Fed circles at the moment that country member Rob Oakeshott is contemplating â€œdoing the dirtyâ€ on Julia Gillard and installing Tony Abbott as Prime Minister for an early double dissolution election.
While his colleague and friend Tony Windsor is thought to be on the verge of announcing his retirement, Oakeshott is younger and is said to be gravely worried that the Nationals will be able to defeat him at the next poll if he sticks with Labor.
Sources say he has been surprised at the extent of the backlash to him personally from his decision to put in Gillard, which started as a negative and then has only worsened since Gillard was sworn in, with the assistance of the Greens party.
Bob Katter, the country conservative independent who sided with the Coalition, is believed to be intent on keeping the heat on Oakeshott, even occasionally making publicly disparaging remarks about his formerly close political colleagues, Windsor and Oakeshott.
Those familiar with the matter though say that Katter has kept up a private dialogue with Oakeshott in particular and is of the view that he could be turned, in certain circumstances. The idea is that, to help Oakeshott, Windsor would go along with his power-play.
â€œOakeshottâ€™s looking for a good excuse or as Fraser would have put it â€˜reprehensible circumstancesâ€™â€ one optimistic Tory opined today.
Katter is thought to be playing a continuous go-between role liaising between Tony Abbottâ€™s office and Oakeshott.
This is partly what has informed Abbottâ€™s public declaration over summer that the two indies should consider doing the government in. Coalition strategists believe the right amount of heat applied to Oakeshott will have him cooked nicely by mid-year.
Oakeshott has already indicated publicly to the pesky Rudd-vehicle Fairfaxâ€™s Phil CooreyÂ in remarks that probably should got much more attention than they did that he was actively considering dumping the Labor government.
Just before Christmas, Mr Oakeshott told the Herald he and Mr Windsor planned to sit down at the end of this year and assess whether to keep backing the government. If they decided Labor was not up to scratch, they would change sides.
”If everyone delivers â€¦ what they have committed to, there’s no reason to change. But no one should get lazy in implementation and delivery,” he said.
Liberals and sources familiar with the country independentsâ€™ strange wheat-chewing ways say that this statement reflects a deep anxiety in Oakeshott that the government is in big political trouble and that he might need to make a spectacular gesture to make it clear that heâ€™s not a Labor stooge. Itâ€™s rumoured that in return for this spectacular gesture that there would be undertakings from the Nats not to be run aggressively against the controversial independent whenever the election was held.