SENIOR Liberals fearing a political "fight to the death" between Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull insist the former PM is not campaigning to get his job back.
But they warn Mr Abbott would be prepared to help remove Mr Turnbull unless there was a substantial rerouting of the government's policy direction.
And there is acceptance Mr Turnbull - a proven political and business brawler - would not go without a battle, which could begin at today's regular Liberal partyroom meeting.
"It's a fight to the death," one gloomy minister said.
Mr Abbott's campaign is increasingly being portrayed within the Liberal Party as sincere but doomed, and could see him and not Mr Turnbull become its chief victim.
Many Liberals believe that whatever his motives, Mr Abbott has antagonised too many colleagues to be re-elected to the leadership, and there is no plausible alternative to replace Mr Turnbull.
Further, they believe it highly unlikely a new PM would put Mr Abbott into the new cabinet, although he would be interested in the defence portfolio.
Mr Abbott is said to be concerned that the Coalition is set to lose Queensland to One Nation inroads and that this would lead to a loss of federal government to Labor.
One consequence of his warnings has been increased instability within the government, heightened further on Monday by former Liberal Cory Bernardi leaking the existence of a group calling themselves The Deplorables.
The group met in private or held telephone conferences to discuss common policy concerns, but Senator a Bernardi, now starting his own party which he has invited Mr Abbott to join, depicted it as an anti-Turnbull movement.
And other pressures are emerging within the government.
North Queensland National George Christensen has repeated a threat to cross the floor to back any move for a commission of inquiry into banks - whether it came from fellow Queenslander Bob Katter, Labor or the Greens.
Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce today told Radio National the instability meant political power was "heading towards the ridiculous" of a Labor government.
Mr Joyce said a Labor win would put a halt to dam construction and inland rail projects now under way.
But he said of the Turnbull Government: "We've got to deliver for our constituents."
And he acknowledged voters were angry over Senate deadlock.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.