Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
KIERAN GILBERT: Welcome to AM Agenda, you are with Kieran Gilbert here in Canberra. The question being asked in Liberal party circles and more broadly this weekend is just how will Malcolm Turnbull respond to the news of a leadership spill motion that is going to moved formally in the Coalition party room, in the Liberal party room I should say when the Parliament resumes next week. Coming up this morning, reaction to the dramatic events of the last 24 hours and we ask where to next for the Government? Joining me first on the program, from Perth, the Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Minister thanks so much for your time.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Good to be here.
KIERAN GILBERT: It must be hard to fathom how it has got to this point only 16 months in?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We obviously would rather that we weren’t in this position. It is very important that we clear the air as quickly as possible. My very strong call to my colleagues is to get behind our leadership team of Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop. To get behind the leadership team that took us successfully to the last election, that took us successfully from Opposition back into Government.
KIERAN GILBERT: Can you explain to our viewers why there was a WA contingent? In fact, the two MPs that have called for the spill are both from your State. Why the disgruntled feeling there in the West?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I don’t know why two of my WA colleagues have chosen to go down the path they have. But here in WA, the Liberal party has received very strong support under Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop’s leadership both in 2010 and in 2013. At the last election we won 12 out of 15 House of Representative seats and we hold six out of the 12 Senate positions here in Western Australia. The overwhelming feedback that I have been receiving here from people in WA, from party members and from members of the community as well as from my colleagues is that they want stability, they want the Government to get on with it, they want us to implement the strong agenda that we took to the last election to build a stronger, more prosperous economy, to create more jobs and to ensure that Australia is safe and secure. That is why people here in Western Australia that I have spoken to want us to get behind Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop.
KIERAN GILBERT: Now should we read anything to the fact that the two MPs concerned are strong supporters of Julie Bishop? Should we see anything in that?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No, I don’t think so. Julie Bishop has been a strong, effective and loyal Deputy to Tony Abbott for the past five and a bit years. She is very strongly supportive of the Prime Minister. The Cabinet is united behind the Prime Minister. The overwhelming majority of the party room I believe is behind the Prime Minister. Julie has come out again this week emphatically throwing her support behind Tony Abbott as our Prime Minister.
KIERAN GILBERT: It is hardly emphatic though. She issued a statement saying that due to Cabinet solidarity and her role as Deputy Leader that is why she is going to not support the spill motion. It wasn’t an overwhelming endorsement of the Prime Minister by any stretch.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Julie Bishop has got a track record of loyalty and support for the Prime Minister. I think that she has been very clear this week. She has been very clear that contrary to media speculation that she is not campaigning for the position of Prime Minister, she is not counting numbers, she supports the Prime Minister.
KIERAN GILBERT: Is there a chance, do you concede that there is a chance that Mr Abbott’s leadership and Prime Ministership is, the damage done, is irreparable now?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No I don’t. I believe that the Prime Minister has the overwhelming support of the party room. That will become clear on Tuesday when the spill motion will be defeated. People have written Tony Abbott off before. In 2007 people said that that was the end of Tony Abbott’s political career. Three years later, he nearly brought us back into government after just one term in Opposition. He and Julie Bishop successfully led us back into Government in 2013, which was still a comparatively short period in Opposition. Tony Abbott has done this before. He’s turned difficult situations around before. He’s come from behind before, in order to lead the Liberal party and to lead the country into a stronger future.
KIERAN GILBERT: Andrew Robb has pointed out that everyone, including the Prime Minister is judged on their performance in the job. How long should he be given to turn it around? Because essentially, Robb has articulated that he should be given more time. But how long? Beyond the Budget? What sort of timeframe should the PM be given here?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m a very strong supporter of the Prime Minister. He has my strong and unequivocal support. I’m not going to put a timeline on it. My view is that the leadership team that took us successfully to the last election should take us to the next election. That is why I’m supporting the Prime Minister.
KIERAN GILBERT: What sort of numbers do you think the Abbott camp has? Is it upwards of 60?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I’m not going to go into party internals like that Kieran. I don’t think you would expect me to.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, well how has the Prime Minister responded to this? There is a report, Phil Coorey says that he’s shattered at how quickly things have deteriorated for his Government and his leadership.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Obviously it’s a very disappointing position that we find ourselves in. There are some lessons to be learned. On Monday the Prime Minister in a very good speech to the Press Club outlined his priorities for 2015, building on some of the significant achievements in 2014. But he also outlined some of the changes in his approach to Government that he intends to make this year. I believe that given the hard work that he did personally, in the lead up to two elections for the Liberal party, I believe that he has earned the right to give effect to those changes that he has flagged. To be given a fair opportunity to make those changes a success.
KIERAN GILBERT: What about the opinion poll, what do you say to your colleagues who might be wavering in the face of the latest survey which suggests that if Malcolm Turnbull becomes leader there is a dramatic turnaround in Coalition support. According to this survey, 55-45 to Labor at the moment, it would be 54-46 to the Coalition under a Turnbull led party.
MATHIAS CORMANN: The next election is in September 2016. That is still more than 18 months away. There is a lot of water to go under the bridge for things to change. Tony Abbott has come from behind before. He has a proven track record as a successful Liberal party leader. He unexpectedly nearly took us to victory in 2010 after just one term in Opposition. He took us successfully to victory in 2013. So what I would say to my colleagues, support a proven team, support the leadership team that took us successfully to the last election in Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop.
KIERAN GILBERT: And what about the concerns of the staff, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff has come in for repeated criticism. Do you accept some of the criticisms are fair and do your colleagues who might be annoyed at the way the Prime Minister has run his office, do you think he could extend them an olive branch ahead of the spill next week.
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is never about our staff. We as Ministers, we who have responsibility in Government from the Prime Minister down, we are responsible for our performance. We are responsible for the performance of the Government. We are talking about our country. We are talking about the future of our country and the future of the Government of this country. This is not a matter of talking about individual staff this is a matter of really focusing on what is important here. It is us as Ministers who are responsible for the way we conduct ourselves.
KIERAN GILBERT: How much of the Government’s problems comes down to the fact that the economic message just has not been prosecuted effectively enough?
MATHIAS CORMANN: We came into Government in September 2013 facing a very challenging situation. The economy was weakening, unemployment was rising, the Budget position was deteriorating rapidly. So as well as implementing our agenda for stronger growth and more jobs by scrapping the carbon tax and mining tax and so on, as well as implementing our agenda to make sure that Australia is safe and secure by stopping the boats and taking other measures, we also had to make some difficult, though we would say necessary decisions to protect our living standards, to put Australia on a stronger foundation for the future. Many of those measures that we had to take in that context were not very popular. That has been reflected in the polls. When you have to take difficult decisions there is no amount of sugar coating or salesman’s job that necessarily can immediately get you on top of the polls or where you want to be at the time of an election. Over time people, I believe, will accept that the decisions that we are making and the decisions that we have made were the right decisions for Australia, were the right decisions to put Australia on a stronger foundation for the future.
KIERAN GILBERT: Would you serve in a cabinet led by Malcolm Turnbull?
MATHIAS CORMANN: That is a hypothetical question. I don’t believe on Tuesday that the spill motion will be successful. I believe the spill motion will be defeated. Again this is not about me. This is not about any of us as individuals. This is about the future of our country. I believe that the best team to lead our party, the best team to lead our country moving forward between now and the next election is Tony Abbott as Prime Minister and Julie Bishop as our deputy leader and Foreign Minister. That is why I will be voting against the spill on Tuesday.
KIERAN GILBERT: All right. Mathias Cormann, Finance Minister. Thanks for your time live from Perth this morning. Appreciate it.
MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.