Interview on RN Drive Patricia Karvelas
Topics: Leadership

Patricia Karvelas: Welcome back to RN Drive.

Simon Birmingham: Hello Patricia, good to be with you.

Patricia Karvelas: So we’ve seen three of your colleagues resign today. Challenger Peter Dutton this morning, Assistant Minister to the Treasurer Michael Sukkar and Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister James McGrath. Has the Prime Minister accepted the resignations of these two Assistant Minister’s?

Simon Birmingham: I’ve seen media reports but I’m not aware in terms of those two. But what the Prime Minister did today, what Malcolm Turnbull did today was he showed guts and strength by putting his job on the line to ensure that Australians get the stability and leadership they deserve. People didn’t want, don’t want, continuance of debate and uncertainty about what jobs politicians are in. Malcolm Turnbull was unwilling to see that uncertainty continue so he walked into the Liberal party room this morning, he declared the positions vacant of his own volition, threw it open, recontested, clearly won. Won with the greatest share of the party room vote then when he was first elected as leader and now is straight back to work in terms of the things that matter to Australians of lowering their electricity bills and growing the economy.

Patricia Karvelas: Simon Birmingham. Let’s get real here. 35 members of your party room including frontbenchers, voted against the Prime Minister and many of them tell me privately that they’re going to strike again.

Simon Birmingham: It was a free ballot. A ballot initiated by the Prime Minister himself, to make sure that it cleared the air.

Patricia Karvelas: It hasn’t cleared the air because Peter Dutton has not ruled out going for it again. It hasn’t cleared the air.

Simon Birmingham: Well Australians want it to clear the air and were determined as a Government to make sure that we get on and focus on the policies that matter. On explaining to the Australian people that we’ve already done significant things to drive down power prices and were doing more. We’ve already created record jobs growth, we’ve already legislated tax relief for hard working Australians. We’ve already got the budget in a position where it comes back to balance. These are the achievements of Malcolm Turnbull and this Government and they’re achievements that are strong achievements, they’re achievements that people expect of a Liberal-National party Government and they’re achievements that we want to fight the next election on.

Patricia Karvelas: The ABC understands that the Prime Minister has only accepted the resignation of Peter Dutton. He won’t accept the resignations of Michael Sukkar and James McGrath. Why not accept those resignations; they’re trying to do the right thing. They say they backed the other candidate and it’s not right that they continue to serve under the Prime Minister?

Simon Birmingham: I’m not going to provide a running commentary on speculation of what the ABC does or doesn’t understand.

Patricia Karvelas: In the end the Prime Minister won’t accept the resignations.

Simon Birmingham: You’re telling me this Patricia, I’ve come on air right now. I’m aware of what has of course occurred over the course of today, what might have happened in the last five minutes whilst I’ve been sitting in your studio is news, what is important..

Patricia Karvelas: What is that strategy then? Not accepting their resignations. Is it about keeping them in the tent. Does Malcolm Turnbull fear that they will be more dangerous if they’re outside of the frontbench?

Simon Birmingham: I’m not commenting on speculation where I don’t know the facts. The facts that I can comment on are yes we had a leadership challenge today, that challenge as I said was because the Prime Minister through the spots vacant himself, his own volition, happy to put his job on the line to make sure the speculation that was in the nations newspapers didn’t drag on. But he now wants to and expects, and I can tell you the overwhelming majority of the Coalition party room expects that we all focus on the things that matter to the Australian people. This is a Government that has a really strong track record we shouldn’t be debating about how we will fight the next election. We should be getting out there, spending the time between now and the election next year, making sure that we continue to govern, we deliver more policies, to create more jobs, to make wages higher, bringing the budget back to balance and then we fight that next election

Patricia Karvelas: Simon Birmingham, you cannot win an election divided like this, can you?

Simon Birmingham: That is why the team must absolutely..

Patricia Karvelas: The team won’t do it. Peter Dutton has refused to rule out another tilt for the leadership. Is that something you’re comfortable with?

Simon Birmingham: I am confident that we will present a united front at the next election, and that united front will be giving the Australian people a contrast and a choice between a Government with a lot of wins under its belt versus a Labor party who is promising to increase the tax rate on peoples wages, on their houses, on pensioners or their retiree savings, on their small businesses, there are very strong contrasts already.

Patricia Karvelas: Let’s not get into lists. If you’re just tuning in, this is RN

Simon Birmingham: It’s not a list, it’s a contrast of policy choices and that will be what Australian’s vote on next year.

Patricia Karvelas: This is RN Drive. I’m Patricia Karvelas and Simon Birmingham who is the Education Minister is my guest.

I’ll ask this again because you haven’t answered. Peter Dutton has refused to rule out another tilt for the leadership. Is that something you’re comfortable with?

Simon Birmingham: Well I would urge every single member of the Coalition party room to lock in behind the reconfirmed leadership team to listen to the Australian people who don’t want any more of this, who I think will respect the fact Malcolm Turnbull was willing to put his job on the line to make sure that he drew a line under all of this. Malcolm – as your intro package made clear – invited Peter to continue in the Cabinet as Home Affairs Minister because Malcolm wants to put a line under all of this and move on as well. Now, it’s Peter’s choice not to do that, but I would hope that every member of the team thinks about the fact that nobody in the Liberal Party, no Liberal voters across the country want to see Bill Shorten as Prime Minister because they understand the type of choice I was talking about before, and the fact…

Patricia Karvelas: How about other senior ministers including Greg Hunt, the Health Minister, who supported Peter Dutton, should they resign?

Simon Birmingham: It’s up to each individual minister or member of the government.

Patricia Karvelas: What would you do? I mean, you backed Malcolm Turnbull but do you think the right thing is to resign?

Simon Birmingham: I think colleagues, if they are committed to supporting the government and the Prime Minister who’s been elected by the party room with a clear majority then should get on with their jobs and their jobs of serving the Australian people and making sure that people better understand the reforms that we’ve taken and to make sure…

Patricia Karvelas: OK so what changes…

Simon Birmingham: …people’s lives are better off…

Patricia Karvelas: Can Turnbull make, should the Prime Minister make to his agenda? What should he do? Because already Peter Dutton has done a sit down interview where he’s said areas where he would have a very different emphasis if he became leader – and clearly is very ambitious and is interested in going for it a second time – would be for instance immigration numbers, says they’re too high, should that be somewhere that the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull looks as well?

Simon Birmingham: Well immigration numbers are lower under Malcolm Turnbull than they were under Tony Abbott…

Patricia Karvelas: So, no change? You don’t think the Prime Minister should change the line on immigration?

Simon Birmingham: The Prime Minister’s already and always looking at all the areas of policy in terms of how we can continuously improve them. Now, what we will take to the next election will be policies of being a lower taxing government than the Labor Party alternative, we’ll take policies of stronger economic growth than the Labor Party alternative, we’ve brought the Budget back to a position where it is coming into balance compared to Labor that drove us deep into deep and deficit, of having strong border protection policies which the Prime Minister paid credit to Peter Dutton’s role in that…

Patricia Karvelas: Does the Prime Minister need to be a sharper communicator?

Simon Birmingham: The Prime Minister needs to focus on what are difficult issues. We’ve seen in…

Patricia Karvelas: Does he need to change the way he is communicating?

Simon Birmingham: Australians, I think, want intelligent, articulate presentation of policies and Malcolm Turnbull provides that, he provides that in terms of addressing complex areas like energy policy, the idea that you can have a simple solution…

Patricia Karvelas: If he’s doing that, why is he struggling in the polls like he is? Why did he get thumped in Longman?

Simon Birmingham: Well we saw a period of time where there was no speculation around division or disunity within the government and there was a real focus on the policy achievements of the government and some of the threats of Bill Shorten and you saw at that time very competitive poll positions, significantly improving numbers for the Prime Minister. What you’ve seen in recent weeks is that’s changed as there’s been a lot of internal commentary that’s spilled out publicly. Now, what’s clear for colleagues and clear for everybody is that if the government is united and focused on the policy agenda then we are very competitive and we can win the next election. If, however, people choose to continue down the path of public commentary or stirring up trouble, then of course the Australian people do not like that and will not respect that.

Patricia Karvelas: Simon Birmingham, thank you so much joining me tonight.