Joyce Accused Turnbull Of 'Active Campaign' To Sabotage Government

"That is bitterly disappointing".

Barnaby Joyce has launched a blistering attack on Malcolm Turnbull, claiming the dumped former Prime Minister is mounting "an active campaign" to sabotage the government over Peter Dutton's section 44 eligibility issues.

Events of the past 24 hours have blown new PM Scott Morrison's hopes for party unity out of the water, as long-simmering tensions within the Coalition threaten to explode.

Turnbull has called for home affairs minister Dutton to be referred to the High Court over his financial interests in childcare centres, which -- as Ten's Hugh Riminton first reported -- could see him fall foul of the constitution. Dutton has resisted efforts to further scrutinise his interests, and Turnbull had formerly supported his minister to avoid a court case.

However, now freed from the parliament, Turnbull has reportedly been lobbying friends in government to support a Labor push to refer Dutton to the High Court. Dutton had previously survived a similar referral motion by a single vote in the dying days of Turnbull's leadership, with Turnbull himself voting against such a referral.

Turnbull's former deputy Julie Bishop did not support Dutton when asked about her thoughts on his eligibility, saying simply "We all have personal responsibility to ensure we are eligible to sit in the Parliament."

"We've seen in recent times steps taken by members of Parliament to clarify their status. But it's a matter for each politician to make that determination," Bishop said on Thursday.

In response to Turnbull's calls, Dutton fired a veiled swipe on 2GB radio, saying the former PM should enjoy his retirement.

READ MOREConstitutional Cloud Emerges Over Peter Dutton's Business Interests

"I think John Howard has got the gold standard here. I think he conducts himself with dignity and I hope that all former prime ministers can do that,” Dutton said.

"I hope that Mr Turnbull is able to enjoy his retirement and contribute to the Liberal Party in the same way that John Howard has, that would be the ideal circumstance."

Later on Thursday, Turnbull's former deputy PM Barnaby Joyce launched a blistering attack, likening him to Tony Abbott.

"It seems like he has an active campaign to try and remove us as the government. That is bitterly disappointing," Joyce said.

Asked if he thought Turnbull had been "wrecking and sniping", Joyce replied "I think that would be a fair comment''.

In his 2GB interview, Dutton referred to the childcare business as "my wife’s business interests" and claimed "I’ve never taken a dollar out of that enterprise". However, Dutton's own disclosures on his publicly-available register of interests list the RHT Family Trust under "self", as well as the "spouse" and "dependent children" sections.

Dutton also claimed Turnbull had long-known about the childcare centres, and hinted that his new comments were retribution. Dutton had challenged Turnbull for the Liberal leadership, but was unsuccessful with Morrison winning a party ballot.

"The former Prime Minister knew all of that detail. He never raised once with me the issue around section 44, his staff never raised it with my office, he never ask for the legal advice I had that showed I had no problem at all," Dutton said.

"The first it was ever mentioned by Malcolm Turnbull was during the leadership week."