Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance and the Public Service
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator for Western Australia
QUESTION: Is this rule change about winning the forgiveness of the Australian voters?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This rule change is our commitment to the Australian people that if they elect Scott Morrison as our Prime Minister at the next election he will remain as Prime Minister until the subsequent election. This is about making sure that everyone across Australia is very clear that the events of the past, back in 2015 and repeated a few months ago, will not be repeated into the future.
QUESTION: This meeting caught a lot of people by surprised last night. Why the rush in getting these into the party room?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not agree that there was a rush. The leadership group has been discussing this for some time. We had a meeting of the Ministry last night. Overwhelmingly the view of the Ministry was once this change was adopted unanimously that it was important to take it to the party room as soon as possible. We did not want the party room to find out about this proposal through the media. We wanted to take the party room into our confidence at the earliest opportunity. We wanted to give the party room the opportunity to make the decision in good time once the recommendation had been adopted by the Ministry or by the Liberal Ministers in the Ministry.
QUESTION: Two former Prime Ministers were consulted. Why was Malcolm Turnbull not?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Tony Abbott is a member of the party room. John Howard is in a very unique position. That was a judgement that the Prime Minister has made. I think that that was the right judgement.
QUESTION: Why will it not apply to leaders in Opposition?
MATHIAS CORMANN: This is about giving the Australian people the confidence that if they express their confidence in somebody to be our Prime Minister, then we as the Parliamentary Liberal party will absolutely respect and stand by their judgement. Somebody who has not won an election and who did not win the confidence of the Australian people is in a different situation. It is important in Opposition for the party to ensure that the policies and the personnel are adjusted such that we can win the confidence of the Australian people. But what we are saying to the Australian people is that if you vote in favour of our candidate for Prime Minister and elect him or her as Prime Minister, then we will ensure that that person remains Prime Minister for the subsequent term of Parliament until the subsequent election.
QUESTION: How many people spoke against the idea in the party room meeting?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not going to go into the detail of the party room discussion, except to say that there was overwhelming support in the party room for the recommendation that was unanimously adopted by the Liberal Ministers in the Ministry. This is now a firm rule for the Parliamentary Liberal party.
QUESTION: Was there a view though that the Labor rules go too far? The 75 per cent for the leader in Opposition?
MATHIAS CORMANN: The Labor rule can be changed by a simple majority of fifty per cent plus one. Our rule needs a two-thirds majority. I would argue that our rule is stronger and harder to change.
QUESTION: Do you accept that the coup damaged the Liberal party brand?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I do not agree with your characterisation. What happened is that Malcolm called a surprise leadership spill, which took a lot of people by surprise, which took most of us in his leadership team by surprise. We were put in a position where we had to resolve the situation that was created. That was not a situation that we wanted to be in, as I did not want to be in that situation back in 2015, when Tony Abbott as first term Prime Minister elected by the Australian people, having defeated the Labor party, was removed from office at the time, which I did not think should have happened. Now the rule that we have adopted last night means Tony Abbott would have not been removed, but it also means I suspect that Malcolm would not have initiated a surprise leadership spill in the circumstances.
QUESTION: That was actually Malcolm Turnbull’s characterisation and he has spoken again this morning. Is it time for him to step out of the spotlight?
MATHIAS CORMANN: Malcolm Turnbull is a private citizen. He has retired from Parliament. He is entitled to his views. I wish him well as I think I said to one of your colleagues yesterday.
QUESTION: Minister Cormann, Nick Greiner spoke about this this morning, the Liberal change he has welcomed it, but he did say that it goes against the Liberal ethos to a degree. Do you agree?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No I do not agree. The important point here is that the leadership of the Liberal party, of the Parliamentary Liberal party, is a gift of the Parliamentary Liberal party. That remains the case. But as a Parliamentary Liberal party we have made a firm commitment to the Australian people that if they elect Scott Morrison or subsequent candidates in the future, Prime Minister of Australia, then they will remain Prime Minister for the full Parliamentary term after that election. That is an important commitment that we are making. We believe the Australian people will overwhelmingly support the rule that we have adopted.
QUESTION: Would a majority vote overturn these new rules and does that make it too easy to get rid of them?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No, as I have just indicated to you, certainly in the Labor party the rule that they have in place can be changed by a simple majority. The rule that we have adopted yesterday can only be changed by a two-thirds majority in the Liberal party party room.
QUESTION: Is it time to expel Malcolm Turnbull from the Liberal Party?
MATHIAS CORMANN: No.
QUESTION: Minister, this party room was called with some surprise last night. Why did that happen?
MATHIAS CORMANN: So you arrived at this press conference a bit late. We have actually gone through this. The leadership group has been thinking about this for some time. We asked the whips to come forward with a proposal, which they did. That proposal was discussed by the full Ministry, in term of Liberal Ministers last night. The view was that once the recommendation had been adopted unanimously by Liberal Ministers in the Ministry that we needed to take it to the party room as soon as possible. We did not want the party room to find out about it in the media. We wanted the party room to have the opportunity, at the earliest opportunity, to make a decision in relation to that recommendation. In all the circumstances we thought it was sensible to have a party room meeting last night to deal with this.
QUESTION: Do you think Malcolm Turnbull’s comments yesterday are helpful to the re-election of the party?
MATHIAS CORMANN: I am not a commentator on comments by private citizens.
QUESTION: You must have a view. You must have a view.
MATHIAS CORMANN: We live in a democracy and Malcom Turnbull is entitled to his views. In the end the Australian people will form their judgements.