Q amp;A: Mal­colm Turn­bull ac­cuses Lib­eral con­ser­va­tives of 'blow­ing up' his govern­ment

The Guardian Australia - - Front Page - Katharine Mur­phy Po­lit­i­cal edi­tor

Mal­colm Turn­bull has de­clared his re­moval from the prime min­is­ter­ship re­mains an act of un­ex­plained mad­ness, and has ac­cused lead­ing con­ser­va­tives of “blow­ing up” the govern­ment, in his first, take-no-prison­ers pub­lic ap­pear­ance since the lead­er­ship coup in Au­gust.

As well as un­load­ing on the ar­chi­tects of the de­fen­es­tra­tion, declar­ing they needed to be ac­count­able for their ac­tions, Turn­bull also con­firmed he had com­plained to Ru­pert Mur­doch about pun­ish­ing cov­er­age from his news out­lets. He also re­counted a con­ver­sa­tion with an­other me­dia mogul, Kerry Stokes, in which Stokes warned him that Mur­doch was hos­tile.

Turn­bull said he had told Mur­doch the only ben­e­fi­ciary of any lead­er­ship coup would be the La­bor leader, Bill Shorten, not Scott Mor­ri­son. He said Mur­doch had said to Stokes that three years of La­bor “wouldn’t be so bad” – a stance Turn­bull said he strug­gled to com­pre­hend.

Thurs­day night’s ap­pear­ance on the ABC was Turn­bull’s first ma­jor pub­lic out­ing since los­ing the Lib­eral party lead­er­ship in late Au­gust. He told the Q amp;A pro­gram he had re­mained out of the coun­try and out of the pub­lic eye in re­cent weeks to give Scott Mor­ri­son “the clear air to do his own thing”.

He sheeted home the blame for the lead­er­ship im­plo­sion to Peter Dutton, Mathias Cor­mann and Tony Ab­bott, but he was also im­plic­itly crit­i­cal of Mor­ri­son. Turn­bull at­tempted to in­oc­u­late him­self from the po­lit­i­cal im­pact of his cri­tique by declar­ing he was not in a po­si­tion to be a “threat” to the prime min­is­ter be­cause he was no longer in par­lia­ment.

Turn­bull pro­vided an anal­y­sis of the Went­worth by­elec­tion re­sult that made it clear Mor­ri­son’s stum­bles in the clos­ing stages of the cam­paign were to blame for the Lib­eral party be­ing un­able to hold the seat. He also mused at one point Mor­ri­son had “dealt him­self a very tough hand of cards, and now he has to play them – but he’s the prime min­is­ter, and he has to get on with it”.

Turn­bull warned his for­mer par­lia­men­tary col­leagues not to veer to the right in a mis­guided at­tempt to “en­er­gise” the base. He noted the po­lit­i­cal de­bate in Aus­tralia was won and lost from the po­lit­i­cal cen­tre, not from the ex­tremes.

“Every­one has to vote, and po­lit­i­cal de­bate is won and lost in the cen­tre,” he said. “And po­lit­i­cal par­ties that over­look that … are at a real risk of los­ing. You win in the cen­tre.”

He said if the Lib­eral party was to suc­ceed, it needed to be a broad church, and the broad church was be­ing frayed, in part be­cause of a toxic feed­back loop cre­ated by the con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tors on Sky News, in­flu­enc­ing the views of Lib­eral party branch mem­bers. “What we’re see­ing is vot­ers say­ing to the Lib­eral party, ‘you are not lib­eral enough’. Now, we should re­flect on this, and the party I joined in 1973 has to re­flect on this.”

Turn­bull said the right had at­tempted to ex­ert dis­pro­por­tion­ate in­flu­ence, and held the broader party hostage. “What you’ve seen in­creas­ingly from the right, even if they’re not in the ma­jor­ity, they’ll say, ‘If you don’t give us what we want, we’ll blow the show up.’

“That is in­tim­i­dat­ing and that is bul­ly­ing, and that was at the heart of the coup back in Au­gust. That is a real threat to the Lib­eral party”.

Turn­bull faced a largely sym­pa­thetic au­di­ence in the ABC stu­dio on Thurs­day night, but he did face some tough ques­tions, in­clud­ing an in­vi­ta­tion to ex­plain how the move against him was dif­fer­ent to his own move against Tony Ab­bott in 2015.

Turn­bull con­tended his move against Ab­bott was dif­fer­ent, be­cause he had clearly ar­tic­u­lated the rea­sons why he felt he could pro­vide more ef­fec­tive lead­er­ship, and bet­ter eco­nomic man­age­ment, while the plot­ters against his lead­er­ship had thus far de­clined to out­line their rea­sons for the up­ris­ing against a govern­ment within strik­ing dis­tance of vic­tory at the next elec­tion.

He was pressed on why he had not sup­ported the Lib­eral can­di­date, Dave Sharma, in Went­worth. Turn­bull said he had en­dorsed Sharma’s can­di­dacy dur­ing the pre­s­e­lec­tion but re­mained out of the fray sub­se­quently both for the can­di­date’s sake and his own.

“My judg­ment was that, given the cir­cum­stances, were I to be cam­paign­ing in or be par­tic­u­larly vis­i­ble in any way in the Went­worth by­elec­tion, it would be un­help­ful to David Sharma’s prospects,” he said.

“It also, frankly, would not have been very help­ful for me main­tain­ing

my own, ah, peace of mind, after an event like this – it’s very im­por­tant to look after your­self and your fam­ily, and it was good and timely for us to step aside and step back at that time.”

One au­di­ence mem­ber de­clared he’d “blown” the prime min­is­ter­ship. Turn­bull begged to dif­fer, laud­ing the achieve­ments of his govern­ment.

He fielded a ques­tion from the At­las­sian founder, Mike Can­nonBrookes, about re­new­able en­ergy. Turn­bull said a 100% re­new­able elec­tric­ity grid was “the­o­ret­i­cally pos­si­ble” and quipped that he might in­vest in a re­new­able en­ergy pro­ject “on its mer­its, ob­vi­ously”.

“I’m back in busi­ness,” he said. “I’m re­tired from pol­i­tics.”

Turn­bull said in clos­ing that he was not bit­ter about his time in pub­lic of­fice, and he said the Lib­eral party, for all its “faults and foibles”, of­fered the best prospect for con­tin­ued, strong eco­nomic growth in Aus­tralia.

He pre­dicted ques­tions about his re­moval would linger un­til the next elec­tion. “I think those peo­ple who are re­spon­si­ble for tak­ing a suc­cess­ful, com­pet­i­tive govern­ment and lit­er­ally blow­ing it up need to have an ex­pla­na­tion.

“But it’s not one that I can pro­vide, be­cause I can­not. I can’t give an ex­pla­na­tion other than to say, as far as I could see, it was mad­ness.

“But, clearly, that’s pretty in­ad­e­quate.”

Mal­colm Turn­bull and Tony Jones on the ABC’s Q amp;A pro­gram. Turn­bull sheeted home blame for the lead­er­ship im­plo­sion to Peter Dutton, Mathias Cor­mann and Tony Ab­bott. Pho­to­graph: ABC

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