ABC – News Radio

Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance and the Public Service
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia






Liberal Party reforms

SANDY ALOISI: Let us go straight to the top story of the morning. It has been described as one of the biggest changes to Liberal party processes in more than 70 years. In a surprise meeting overnight, the party agreed to make it harder to replace a sitting Liberal Prime Minister. From now on, two-thirds of the party room support will be needed to support a leadership spill. Mathias Cormann is Finance Minister and Leader of the Government in the Senate. He joins us now. Senator good morning to you. 


SANDY ALOISI: Is this an admission that it was a mistake to get rid of Malcolm Turnbull this year and Tony Abbott in 2015?

MATHIAS CORMANN: It is a commitment to the Australian people that if they elect Scott Morrison as our Prime Minister at the next election that he will remain as Prime Minister until the subsequent election. We have learned from the events of the past. Under this rule, Tony Abbott would have remained Prime Minister. I suspect that Malcolm Turnbull would not have initiated a surprise leadership spill towards the end of August.

SANDY ALOISI: Do you find it ironic that the leadership spill that occurred earlier this year and has caused your party, you would admit, quite a lot of grief, if this had been in place, then Malcolm Turnbull would still be Prime Minister. 

MATHIAS CORMANN: If this had been in place, Tony Abbott would still be Prime Minister …interrupted


MATHIAS CORMANN: But we cannot change the past. We can only change the future. We have listened. We have heard the Australian people. We have made the conscious decision to make this rule change, to make this significant rule change to ensure that the Australian people can have confidence, that if they elect Scott Morrison as our Prime Minister at the next general election, then he will remain as Prime Minister all the way through the next Parliamentary term to the subsequent election. 

SANDY ALOISI: So why has the leadership change or rather the rule change been made now?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Because we have reviewed the events of the last few years. We have reviewed the developments in relation to the leadership since September 2013. We have made some decisions to improve the rules to ensure it does not happen again. 

SANDY ALOISI: But after taking over as Liberal leader, the Prime Minister played down the need to change the rules on electing the leader. Why has he changed his mind at this point?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We have had some discussions in the leadership group in recent times. We asked the whips in our party to come forward with a proposal on how we could appropriately address this. They came forward with the proposal that ultimately was adopted by the party room last night after it was considered by Liberal Ministers in the Ministry meeting yesterday evening.

SANDY ALOISI: So former Prime Ministers were consulted on this? Who were they?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Tony Abbott as a former Prime Minister is still a member of the party room. So I do understand that the Prime Minister has spoken to him. He also spoke to John Howard, who of course, has a unique position as a long serving distinguished former leader of the Liberal party and former Liberal Prime Minister.

SANDY ALOISI: Why was Malcolm Turnbull not consulted?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Malcolm Turnbull as he has indicated himself is retired from politics. He has moved on. He is no longer in the Party room. He resigned from the Parliament. He is no longer part of those processes. 

SANDY ALOISI: So just looking at the change if you go forward, two-thirds of Liberal MPs are needed to support a spill motion for a Liberal party in Government, for it to get up. What if though, in a scenario there is just one or two votes short, how does a Prime Minister continue perhaps knowing that, say 55 per cent of the party does not support him or her?

MATHIAS CORMANN: That is actually not quite right what you just described. The position that we have adopted is that the elected Prime Minister would remain Prime Minister for the full term of the subsequent Parliament. So if Scott Morrison is elected as Prime Minister, our commitment is that he will remain Prime Minister for the full term. That rule, which we have imposed on ourselves can only be changed by a two-thirds majority. So the characterisation that you have put on it that a spill would require a two thirds majority is not right. The commitment that we have made and the rule that we have imposed on ourselves is that an elected Prime Minister will remain Prime Minister under our rules for the full term of the subsequent Parliament. 

SANDY ALOISI: No I understand that, but I just wondered if, say half of the Party does not support the current Prime Minister, does that make his or her leadership somewhat untenable?

MATHIAS CORMANN: We have made a commitment to the Australian people that we will respect their judgement. It is the Australian people who make judgements at an election as to who they want to see serve as their Prime Minister in the subsequent term of Parliament. What we have said as the Parliamentary Liberal party is that we give a firm commitment that we will absolutely respect their judgement if they elect our candidate for Prime Minister, Prime Minister. 

SANDY ALOISI: And how do you think the electorate will view this new rule change?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I think the electorate will welcome it. The feedback that we have been getting across the community is that there was a level of concern about the fact that back in 2015 Tony Abbott was removed as a first term Prime Minister who had defeated the Labor party and people were concerned about the events a few months ago. So I think that people will welcome the fact that we have listened, we have acted and we have come up with a way forward that can give people confidence, that if Scott Morrison is re-elected Prime Minister, he will continue to serve as Prime Minister all the way through the next term of Parliament.

SANDY ALOISI: And finally, Senator Cormann, how difficult have Malcolm Turnbull’s interventions over the past few days made it for your Government?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Malcolm Turnbull is a private citizen. He is entitled to his views. He is entitled to express his views. I wish him well. It is entirely a matter for him.

SANDY ALOISI: Alright, Senator Cormann, I thank you for your time this morning.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good to talk to you.


Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann, Minister for Finance, Perth