Liberal plotters must explain why they blew up the government: Malcolm Turnbull

Malcolm Turnbull has excused Scott Morrison from helping orchestrate his downfall but said many senior members of the Coalition were bullies who posed an existential threat to the Liberal Party and who blew up the government for no good reason, jeopardising its re-election prospects.

In an explosive solo appearance on the ABC’s Q&A program on Thursday night, the former prime minister also confirmed that Seven Network Chairman Kerry Stokes had told him in the lead up to the August 24 spill that News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch was trying to get rid of him.

“Kerry Stokes, he’s given an account of this conversation to many people, he said to Rupert: ‘That’s crazy, Malcolm’s doing well in the polls, he’s way ahead of Bill Shorten. Why would you want Bill Shorten to be prime minister?

“To which, according to Kerry, Rupert said: ‘Oh, well, three years of Labor wouldn’t be so bad.’

“I can’t work that out. I can’t explain that.”

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Mr Turnbull said he also spoke to Murdoch during the week of the spill to complain about the coverage by his newspapers.

“He said it was really Lachlan’s responsibility, but he’s always said words to that effect in recent years. I’m not suggesting that isn’t right.”

Mr Turnbull reserved his vitriol for more than half a dozen senior Liberals who orchestrated the coup and said none of them, as well as Mr Morrison, could still explain why it was done.

“I think the move to remove me in August was crazy. I think it was self-destructive. No-one’s explained it. It was pointless. And nobody’s actually set out what the reason was for it,” he said.

“I mean, Scott Morrison can’t explain it. He’s the new prime minister. I’m the outgoing prime minister. I can’t explain it. And the people that were responsible choose not to do so.”

He singled out Peter Dutton and Tony Abbott as the main culprits supported by Mathias Cormann, Mitch Fifield, Michaelia Cash, Greg Hunt, Steve Ciobo, Michael Keenan and Angus Taylor, all of whom, except Mr Abbott, were ministers and all of who betrayed him.

“There’s a long list of them, they effectively blew up the government and that created a situation of enormous instability,” he said.

He said they created an atmosphere inside the party that led to MPs being “intimidated and bullied”.

“They’re frightened that the destabilisation is going to continue. And so there are some people who would have voted for the spill not because they wanted me to stop being prime minister, but they wanted the destabilisation to stop,” he said.

“Now, my view is you do not give in to bullies. “

‘Competitive’ Coalition

Mr Turnbull said at the time of his ouster, the Coalition, according to its internal polling, was ahead of Labor on a two-party preferred basis by 52 per cent to 48 per cent.

​”And in the published polls, as everyone knows, we were 51-49 behind, which is effectively level pegging,” he said.

“So there’s no question the government was doing well. We were thoroughly competitive.”

He even suggested they brought him down because they feared he might win the election and consolidate his leadership.

“Maybe they were worried we’d win the election. Maybe they were not worried we’d lose it.”

He said he was shocked that people with such “solemn” portfolio responsibilities such as Mr Dutton, the Home Affairs Minister and Senator Cormann, the government leader in the Senate,”would act in a way that was going to be so damaging both to the government, to the party and, frankly, to the nation”.

He suggested the plotters posed an existential threat to the Liberal Party with their conservatism-at-all-costs attitude.

“The fundamental premise of a political party is that you have a group of people with different backgrounds and different points of view and they meet and they debate issues and then they reach a consensus,” he said.

“What you’ve seen increasingly from the right, even if they’re not in the majority, they’ll say, ‘If you don’t give us what we want, we’ll blow the show up’.

“That is intimidating and that is bullying, and that was at the heart of the coup back in August. That is a real threat to the Liberal Party.”  

He said he does not suspect Mr Morrison played a role in the coup but says he exploited the chaos to emerge as leader.

“I take Scott at his word. The insurgency was led by Peter Dutton, was obviously strongly supported by Tony Abbott and others. Scott did not support it,” he said.

“He took advantage of a situation that was created by others. Well, I suppose, you know, that is how he’s presented the circumstances himself, and I’m not in a position to contradict that or question that.”

He did blame Mr Morrison and the government for losing the Wentworth byelection due to the calamitous last week of the campaign.

He cited  Barnaby Joyce fuelling leadership instability in the Nationals and proposing the Snowy 2.0 hydro scheme was replaced by a coal-fired power station.

And he  blamed the “it’s OK to be white” vote in the Senate and Mr Morrison’s proposal to move the Australian embassy in Israel.

“What happened in that last week was the swing against the Liberal Party was accentuated and accelerated.”

“I believe the byelection was lost in the last week. It was a pretty messy week for the government,” he said.

No threat

Mr Turnbull said he posed no threat to Mr Morison or the government from here onwards.

“I have left the parliament. So I can’t be a threat to Scott Morrison or anyone else. I’m not even in the parliament. I’m not in the party room anymore,” he said.

He said he deliberately said little after losing his job because he wanted to give Mr Morrison “clear air” to do his job.

He listed his achievements while leader as record jobs growth, economic growth, reduced personal income tax, reduced company tax, changes to school funding and record funding for health and pharmaceutical benefits.

He noted how he spared  Australia Donald Trump’s increased steel and aluminium tariffs, how he resuscitated the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, legislated same-sex marriage alive and tried to progress the transition to clean energy.

.”If you wanted to build a new dispatchable power station, if you said you wanted to deliver 1,000 megawatts of power continuously, and you wanted to do that from new sources, I do not believe that you would build, today, a coal-fired power station,” he said.

That applied regardless of issues about climate policy and carbon risk, because renewable generation is so cheap.

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