Turnbull stakes leadership on energy

Paul Osborne, AAP Senior Political Writer

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has pledged "wise leadership" as he faces unrest in Liberal ranks over the government's next step in energy and climate policy.

Mr Turnbull lost the Liberal leadership in 2009 over climate policy and his successor Tony Abbott demolished Labor's carbon pricing scheme after winning office in 2013.

After a lengthy partyroom meeting on Tuesday evening, called to consider a report by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, one Liberal MP told Fairfax Media the prime minister could lose the party leadership if he didn't listen to backbenchers concerned about a proposed clean energy target.

Liberal MP Craig Kelly, who heads the party's energy and environment committee and recently described Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord as a champagne-popping moment, made a joke of the Finkel report.

"If you believe that you can lower prices by replacing existing coal-fired generation with higher-cost renewables then I have a harbour bridge to sell you."

It's been reported Mr Abbott and assistant minister Craig Laundy exchanged stern words in the party room, with at least 10 MPs opposing Dr Finkel's proposal of a clean energy target.

On Wednesday, Mr Turnbull equated getting the policy right with strong leadership, when questioned by reporters in Canberra.

"Let me tell you, glib answers and one-liners have been of no assistance in keeping Australians' energy secure and affordable," Mr Turnbull said.

"What Australians need is wise leadership, not glib leadership."

He declined to speculate about a "lack of success" having only received the Finkel report on Friday, nor did he set out a timetable for when the government would finalise a policy.

Earlier Treasurer Scott Morrison said raising issues of leadership was "very premature".

He later added, when questioned by reporters: "Those sorts of assertions (about leadership problems) are better placed for New Idea than they are for reporting of news.

"What we are focused on is getting an outcome for the Australian people and we are working through that process in a very responsible and methodical way."

Mr Morrison said the party meeting ended in a clear consensus that the status quo on energy policy could not continue, and a widespread acknowledgement of the good work Mr Turnbull and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg had done in consulting colleagues.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann backed up the treasurer.

"Yesterday what the prime minister did was precisely that, he was listening," Senator Cormann said.

Labor leader Bill Shorten, whose party leads the coalition 52-48 per cent in the latest Essential poll, said there was a new civil war in the Liberals and Mr Turnbull had been weakened.

"It would appear that chaos is the order of the day for Malcolm Turnbull and his Liberal party room," Mr Shorten said.

The Essential poll published on Tuesday found the voters most likely to support a low emission target, as proposed by Dr Finkel, were Liberal voters (51 per cent) and people aged over 65 (51 per cent).

Forty-five per cent preferred a low emissions target to carbon trading, while 20 per cent backed an emissions intensity scheme.