Malcolm Turnbull insists his government's policy to hold a plebiscite on same-sex marriage remains unchanged after one of his most senior lieutenants lobbed a grenade into the debate.
Cabinet minister Christopher Pyne, a leading figure in the Liberal Party's moderate faction, told allies on Friday that legalising same-sex marriage could happen "sooner than everyone thinks".
"Friends, we are in the winner's circle but we have to deliver a couple of things and one of those we've got to deliver before too long is marriage equality in this country," Mr Pyne told colleagues in a recording obtained by News Corp Australia.
"And your friends in Canberra are working on that outcome.
"It might even be sooner than everyone thinks."
Mr Pyne's remarks, which came on the eve of the Liberal Party's federal council meeting in Sydney, have the potential to trigger a seismic internal coalition row.
The prime minister insists his government would not be abandoning its same-sex marriage plebiscite.
"Our policy is clear, we have no plans to change it, full stop," Mr Turnbull said in Melbourne on Monday.
"That is the policy that we took to the election and we are sticking to it."
Mr Pyne earlier attempted to defuse his remarks after the story was splashed across the front pages of major newspapers.
"I support marriage equality and if Labor had supported the plebiscite, marriage equality would be a reality now," he said.
"The government has no plans to alter the policy."
But former prime minister Tony Abbott, who devised the same-sex marriage plebiscite plan the coalition took to the 2016 election, was scathing of Mr Pyne.
"This is one of the reasons people turn off politicians, because we don't tell them what we think and it looks like one of our number has been caught out," he told Ray Hadley on 2GB radio.
Mr Abbott issued a blunt warning against abandoning the plebiscite.
"To dump the plebiscite, to do anything without a plebiscite, would be a breach of faith with the people," he said.
The Senate in November rejected legislation that would have allowed the national vote to take place.
West Australian Liberal senator Dean Smith, who has long argued for a free vote on marriage equality, believes the plebiscite policy should be revisited in August.
"I think the evidence is very, very clear. It will be hard to re-adopt the plebiscite," he told HuffPost Australia.
"We are coming up to the two-year anniversary of when we adopted the plebiscite in August. (The plebiscite) having ... been defeated, I think there is a natural symmetry about re-examining our policy at that particular point in time."
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said it would take five minutes for him and the prime minister to put same-sex marriage to a vote in parliament.
"Together we can make marriage equality a reality. Let's do that the next time parliament meets," he said in Melbourne.