Press Conference - Parliament House, Canberra - 23 August 2018

August 23, 2018
Transcripts

E&OE…

SUBJECTS: Liberal Party leadership.

PRIME MINISTER:

Australians will be rightly appalled by what they're witnessing in their nation's Parliament today and in the course of this week. So I don't want to enter into a debate about recent events, but set out what is going to happen next.

Now, the House has been adjourned at the request of Mr Dutton. So I now await a letter with the signatures of a majority of the Party Room, which is 43. If I receive that, then I will convene a new Party Room meeting. The Party Room, of course, met on Tuesday and confirmed my leadership by a majority. So we need to see that there is a majority of members and they need to put their names to it too. These are momentous times and it's important that people are accountable for what they're doing.

So when or assuming I get that letter - which I read in the press is already in place, but perhaps maybe it isn't, we'll see - but as soon as I get that, my intention is to hold a party meeting at midday tomorrow. It's important that before the party meeting is held, we have access to the advice of the Solicitor-General on the eligibility of Mr Dutton to sit in the Parliament. We expect that advice to be available first thing in the morning. That’s what the Attorney-General has advised me. This is a very, very significant point.

As we all know Section 44 has been a companion of this 45th Parliament. But I cannot underline too much how important it is that anyone who seeks to be Prime Minister of Australia, is eligible to be a Member of Parliament. Because a Minister, let alone a Prime Minister, who is not eligible to sit in the House is not capable of validly being a Minister or exercising any of the powers of a Minister. So you can understand how important this issue is.

Now, the Solicitor-General was briefed on it yesterday and I'm sure he’s working to complete his advice. But it's a very important point and of course we don't know what he'll say. But that advice at least will mean the Party Room is informed and indeed, Mr Dutton is informed. That may impact on his decision to run or not.

In terms of my own intentions, when the Party Room meeting is called I will invite a spill motion to be moved. If the motion is carried I will treat that as a vote of no confidence and I will not stand as a candidate in the ballot.

So those are the events that will unfold over the next few days, there's time enough to talk about the implications of these events.

I’d just say this to you all; as you know, the Government that I have led has been a very effective one. We have achieved an enormous amount in economic reform and social reform in this Parliament, despite the fact that we have had a one-seat majority in the House and a minority in the Senate. The Cabinet has worked very, very cohesively and confidentially. It's been a very good Cabinet. I want to thank all the Cabinet ministers.

The reality is that a minority in the Party Room supported by others outside the Parliament have sought to bully, intimidate others into making this change of leadership that they're seeking.

It’s been described by many people, including those who feel they cannot resist it, as a form of madness.

It is remarkable that we are at this point, when only a month ago we were - as you all know being avid readers of polls – just a little bit behind Labor in the public polls and on our own polls, a little bit ahead. But on any view thoroughly competitive.

So those are the events that will unfold over the next few days. I'm happy to take a few questions but please don't all shout at once.

JOURNALIST:

Have you been betrayed by your colleagues?

PRIME MINISTER:

Again, I'll leave the emotions. I'm going very hard-headed about this, I'm happy to take questions on factual matters. Phil Coorey?

JOURNALIST:

Mr Turnbull, if you do step aside tomorrow, if the spill is moved, will you remain in the Parliament until the end of the term?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I’ve made it very clear that I believe that former Prime Ministers are best out of the Parliament. I don't think there's much evidence to suggest that that conclusion is not correct.

JOURNALIST:

[Laughter]

Why not call an election?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I think the public will be crying out for an election, clearly. Well, if there is, it may be that the spill motion is not carried and I remain Prime Minister and we can try to restore some stability. But assuming it is carried and there is a new Leader of the Liberal Party, that person will have to, obviously, satisfy the Governor-General that they can command a majority on the floor of the House of Representatives.

In the case of Mr Dutton, I think he'll have to establish that he is eligible to sit in the Parliament. I mean, again, I don't want to elaborate on this anymore than I need to but this issue of eligibility is critically important.

You can imagine the consequences of having a Prime Minister whose actions and decisions are questionable, because of the issue of eligibility, ie are they validly a Minister at all? Now, I hope the Solicitor-General deals with this very conclusively and clearly and it won't be an issue at all.

JOURNALIST:

What do you offer your MPs that Mr Dutton does not?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, you’d have to ask him. I mean we have delivered as you know, stronger economic growth. We have delivered more jobs. We have delivered tax cuts for businesses and families. We have delivered record spending in health, education, in infrastructure. So the Government has performed very well and the proof, insofar as you need proof of those things, the proof has been there in the polls.

But obviously the history of the Government's polling - again I don't want to overdo the polling commentary but you all love it - has really been this; that when we have been able to get on with governing, we have done well. When there has been internal insurrection, you know, of the kind we have seen in its extreme form in the course of the last week or so, when there have been distractions, our numbers go down.

The public hate what is going on at the moment. They want everyone here to be focused on them.

I have done everything I can to keep the Liberal Party and indeed the Coalition united.

I want to thank Michael McCormack, the Deputy Prime Minister, by the way, for his solidarity and also my own deputy, Julie Bishop. But obviously if people do want to conduct an internal insurgency, then, you know, they're very hard to stop. So we'll have to let the democratic process play out.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER

I am going to ask Murpharoo a question, but then I will leave you. It's very hard to hear everyone at once. So Murpharoo?

JOURNALIST:

 

I’ll be greedy and take two. In the event that the vote of no confidence appears that –

PRIME MINISTER:

If the spill is carried, yes?

JOURNALIST:

If the spill is carried, would you encourage your supporters to back Scott Morrison, who is clearly angling? Also, if I may, you referred in your preamble to bullies and people taken hostage in this debate?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

Who do you mean?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well again, I'm not going to go into names or anything remotely approaching recrimination or anything of that kind. I mean politics is a tough business. You’ve got to judge the political actions by their outcomes.

I think what we're witnessing, what we have witnessed at the moment is a very deliberate effort to pull the Liberal Party further to the right. That’s been stated by a number of the people that have been involved in this. Look, I think I won't get into the merits of that, but I just say that what began as a minority, has by a process of intimidation, you know, persuaded people that the only way to stop the insurgency is to give in to it.

I do not believe in that. I have never done that. I have never given in to bullies. But you can imagine the pressure it's put people under.

JOURNALIST:

How hurt are you Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

In my line of work, personal feelings have got to be put aside. This is all about 25 million Australians. My job is about advancing their interests.

I regret that the attention of the Parliament is not focused on 25 million Australians at the moment. I'm hopeful that these issues can be resolved and I look forward to the meeting, assuming it goes ahead tomorrow at midday.

I want to thank you all very much.

[ENDS]

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