ABC TV – News Breakfast

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 reform, COP24

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Let us take you back to our top story, that snap Liberal Party room meeting overnight to change the rules around rolling a Party leader. Mathias Cormann is the Leader of the Government in the Senate and he joins us now from Canberra. Mathias Cormann, good morning, thanks for joining us.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Good morning. Good to be back.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: This was a very last minute meeting, it clearly took many members by surprise. What was the catalyst for such a surprise meeting?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Obviously, we have been thinking about this for some time. The leadership group has been talking about this proposal last week. We are very keen to ensure that people across Australia can have confidence that if they elect Scott Morrison as Prime Minister at the next election, which we hope they will, that Scott Morrison will be the Prime Minister all the way through to the subsequent election. So, we have been talking about this internally for some time. We asked the Whips to put a proposal forward. That was considered by the full Liberal ministry yesterday and we felt that it was important to take this proposal straight to the Party room for its endorsement and that is, of course, what they did. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: There seemed to be a great deal of haste in it though and it clearly took people by surprise. Julie Bishop, I understand, arrived half an hour late. Was that part of the intention, to actually take people by surprise? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: No, not at all. I do not agree with the characterisation that there was a lot of haste. We have been thinking this through for some time…interrupted

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: You do not agree with the fact that she was late?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Well I did not actually see who arrived at the Party room when. But what I can say is, we had a Ministry meeting that endorsed it and the overwhelming view was that once the decision was made, that it was important to put it to the Party room at the earliest opportunity so that this could be resolved and it was resolved with overwhelming support…interrupted

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Another couple of questions, if I can, about the nature of that meeting? The Prime Minister said the resolution was carried by consensus. Which, of course, is not necessarily a vote and not necessarily unanimous support. Did many speak out against the idea?

MATHIAS CORMANN: This was definitely carried with overwhelming support. There was a discussion about aspects of it, questions were asked, as you would expect in a meeting of this nature, with a proposal of this nature…interrupted

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: I am just going to go to my question, did many speak out against the idea? The word there is many or some.

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to give you a blow by blow description of the Party room…interrupted

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Just after one blow?

MATHIAS CORMANN: The one blow is that there was overwhelming support for the proposal that was put forward with the unanimous endorsement of the Liberal Ministers in the ministry.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: So, this rule then, could entrench a leader that the majority of the Party room does not want. You could get 51 per cent, maybe even more and they still have to cop it if they cannot reach that two-third majority. My question is how does that maintain stability? Don’t you just get to the old system of they go away, they do their numbers again and then they come back with another hit?

MATHIAS CORMANN: No, this is us making a commitment to the Australian people, that if you the Australian people elect a prime minister, if you give confidence at an election, at a General Election, to a Prime Minister, then we as members of the Parliamentary Liberal Party, give you a commitment that he or she will remain our Prime Minister all the way through that term of Parliament to the next election. In all of the circumstances and in the context of the history of recent years, we think that that is an important change.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Now, I understand that John Howard and Tony Abbott were consulted as part of the discussions that you spoke about earlier, but not Malcolm Turnbull. Why is that?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Well Tony Abbott remains a member of the Party room and he was very supportive of the change. John Howard is an absolute giant of the Liberal Party, having been our longest serving living Prime Minister. So I think that it was entirely appropriate for the Prime Minister to engage with Tony Abbott, as somebody who is a member of the Party room and indeed with John Howard. Clearly, in relation to Malcolm Turnbull, he has left the Parliament, he has said himself that he has retired from politics. So that is where we are.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: But he is the last Prime Minister who was deposed. If this rule was in place, he actually would have survived. Indeed, Tony Abbott would have survived as well. You are saying he is neither a significant Party member nor a giant like John Howard?

MATHIAS CORMANN: If this rule was in place, Tony Abbott would still be Prime Minister. That is quite right. That is the position that I adopted at the time. Indeed, I did not want to see the most recent change either, but once Malcolm Turnbull initiated a surprise leadership ballot on the Tuesday of that week in August, the Party was put in a position where we had to resolve the leadership of the Liberal Party with more certainty. But what we have done yesterday is put in place a rule, which will ensure that if the Australian people elect a Liberal Member of Parliament as Prime Minister, then he or she will remain Prime Minister for the entire subsequent term of Parliament.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Following Malcolm Turnbull's intervention in the pre-selection struggle for Craig Kelly, in your view, is it time for the Prime Minister to ask Malcolm Turnbull to refrain from interference? 

MATHIAS CORMANN: Look, Malcolm Turnbull is his own person. He is a private citizen, he is entitled to his opinion. I wish him well.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: You do not think that he has been unnecessarily intervening?

MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not a commentator on Malcolm's contributions as a private citizen. We will focus on the job that we are elected to do on behalf of the Australian people, delivering a stronger economy, more jobs, getting the Budget back to surplus, as soon as possible, keeping Australians safe and secure. That is what we focus on every single day.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Just as we have a look overseas, we have got a very important climate change conference going on in Poland at the moment. What agreement does the Australian Government want to see reached at that conference in Poland? What is the percentage reduction that we want to see or the temperature change goal that we want to achieve, as a world, in order to keep us from dangerous climate change?

MATHIAS CORMANN: Australia is committed to make our contribution to global emissions reductions. We have made a commitment in Paris to deliver 26 per cent as a minimum of emissions reductions by 2030, on 2005 levels. 26 to 28 per cent is the range that we took to Paris and we remain committed to that. If you look at our track record, we exceeded our emissions reduction targets under  Kyoto 1. We are well on track to meet our emissions target under Kyoto 2. We believe that we will deliver the commitment under commitments that we have made in Paris in terms of emissions reductions by 2030.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Good to talk to you, Mathias Cormann. Thanks for your time.

MATHIAS CORMANN: Always good at that talk to you.


Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann, Minister for Finance, Perth