Triple J Hack, Canberra, interview with Tom Tilley

  • Transcript, E&OE

TOM TILLEY Julie Bishop, thank you so much for joining us on such an important day.

JULIE BISHOP Good afternoon, good to be with you.

TOM TILLEY You played a critical role in bringing about this change. Can you tell us what did you say to the Prime Minister when you walked into his office yesterday?

JULIE BISHOP I didn't instigate this change, what I did was inform Tony Abbott that in recent days it had become obvious to me that he had lost the confidence of more than half of the Party Room and half of his Cabinet and as the deputy of the party I believe it is my duty to bring such information to the attention of the leader of the party. He of course knew the options available to him. I didn't ask him to stand aside and he decided he would bring the matter to a head by calling a Party Room meeting and calling for a spill of all positions. It was a very difficult decision for the party and it was obviously very difficult thing for me to have to say to the Prime Minister but I was aware that he had lost the confidence of more than half the Party Room and I was obliged to tell him that.

TOM TILLEY You've been working so closely with him for years. How did it feel to say that?

JULIE BISHOP It's a very difficult thing to do. It's the hardest thing I've had to do in politics.

TOM TILLEY Yes, and I guess the repercussions are difficult as well because you were part of a Coalition, a chorus of Coalition MPs who slammed Labor for unseating an elected Prime Minister in his first term, Kevin Rudd. How do you expect the electorate to trust you now that you've done the same thing?

JULIE BISHOP Well I'm well aware of the comments that I made and of the parallels that people will draw, the difference is that the public have known since February that the party had a number of people who were voicing their disapproval of the way Tony Abbott was leading the party because we had a very public meeting, it was a very dramatic meeting where a number of backbenchers called for a spill motion. No one mounted the challenge against the Prime Minister at that time. Tony Abbott publicly asked for six months to turn things around and the party gave him that time but unfortunately more than half the Party Room decided that things had not improved and that he had lost their confidence to lead them.

It is simplistic to say it was driven by the polls, they were a factor, but I believe people are also influenced by a range of other matters, including the management style of his office, a range of things. There has been great reluctance to take this step and everyone was urging Tony to succeed. It was my sincere wish that he turn things around but that didn't happen and nobody wanted the Abbott Government to succeed more than I but that's not the way it turned around.

We are in a Parliamentary democracy and the fact is that our leaders are chosen by the Party Room, by the members of the Party Room, a majority of them and so this is democracy in action. It can be messy, it can be difficult, but at the end of the day the majority have their say.

TOM TILLEY On the text line, "Embarrassed - Turnbull makes a car salesman look full of integrity," Zac in Wollongong says, "Malcolm now has a year to prove if this change is worth it".

Amy has called in from Somerville. Amy you are angry.

Yes I am very angry Tom. I voted Liberal purely because I was really tired of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd [inaudible] and having that instability within our government I feel confident within [inaudible] to have that consistency and I feel that has been completely lost. I also feel that, even though it was a late hour last night, it was a very poorly executed pitch which kind of made my confidence run a little bit dry. I was just wondering was that taken into consideration during this motion at all, because I know a lot of Liberal voters especially voted Liberal because they wanted stability.

TOM TILLEY An interesting point Amy, thanks so much for the call. I'll put that to Julie Bishop. Julie Bishop what do you make of Amy's point there?

JULIE BISHOP Well I can understand why people are angry or people are dismayed by it and why others embrace the decision but the fact is leadership tensions have been alive and well in political parties forevermore. I remember the Peacock-Howard years, I remember the Howard-Peacock years, I remember the Hewson years, the Alexander Downer years. Leaderships of parties change and they change quite often, except under John Howard who had 11 years of solid leadership although he faced many tensions from time-to-time and he stared them down.

TOM TILLEY They generally don't change in the first term though do they, except for the last nine years?

JULIE BISHOP No that is quite true although there have been some examples of this in the past. What we have to do is assure the Australian people that there has been a change of leadership but it will be for the betterment of the country, otherwise you wouldn't do it.

I believe Malcolm Turnbull will be a good Prime Minister, he will be a powerful advocate to the principles of the Liberal Party which have served our nation so well over the years and he will communicate his ideas. He is already consulting about the new Cabinet, I believe he will be very consultative and I hope that we will be a better party and a better government as a result. One of your listeners said Malcolm has 12 months to prove himself, well that is right, there is an election and at that time the Australian people have their say and that is the beauty of democracy. People have their say and they can pass judgment, every three years on the performance of the Federal Government, but in the meantime the Party Room has their say on who its leader is. It is a unique of the Party Room to choose a leader, to hire the leader, to fire the leader, that's what happens in a Parliamentary democracy because we don't have a Presidential system.

TOM TILLEY Well that's absolutely true in a technical sense but a lot of voters feel like they did vote for Tony Abbott as the leader as opposed to Labor and that's what has got a lot of people angry. I want to move on to talk about the new leadership team - yourself and Malcolm Turnbull, and the new Cabinet which we'll find out more about.

JULIE BISHOP Well the new leadership team includes the National Party because of course we are in Coalition with the National Party and the Deputy Prime Minister is Warren Truss. I'm the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party.

TOM TILLEY Okay, well let's talk about the new leadership under Malcolm Turnbull. Now because he's been the leader of the party before and because he is so outspoken we know where he stands on a number of issues, particularly on how to deal with climate change. Now after he was ousted from his position as Opposition Leader over the ETS debate he trashed Tony Abbott's Direct Action approach… is that your phone?

JULIE BISHOP Yes we've just turned it off, believe me it's been ringing quite a lot! Sorry I should have had it on silent.

TOM TILLEY No worries I'm sure it has. What a hectic day for you.

Now back to Malcolm Turnbull, after he was ousted as leader in 2009 he trashed Tony Abbott's direct action approach to climate change in Parliament. He said that having the Government pick projects for subsidy is a recipe for fiscal recklessness on a grand scale. And then last night he said this: "…climate policy is one that is, I think has been very well designed. That was a very, very good piece of work". Now that is a massive turnaround or some might call it a backflip. How is Turnbull going to sell a climate policy that we know he doesn't believe in?

JULIE BISHOP What has happened since that time is that the climate change policy, as eventually crafted by Greg Hunt, has been implemented and it has been put into action and we had an auction of climate change initiatives and it was hugely successful in its implementation and outcomes. So what might not have been everybody's cup of tea in a technical sense has proved, in practical terms, to be a success. It is reducing emissions and as Malcolm said so persuasively in the Parliament today, it is not a matter of having some sort of ideological obsession with how you reduce emissions, the answer is well what has the outcome been and Australia is reducing its emissions. We are going to meet our 2020 bipartisan target for the reduction of emissions, not only are we going to meet them under Greg Hunt's Direct Action Plan, but we are going to exceed them so the proof is in the pudding.

TOM TILLEY I guess you can understand people are questioning what Malcolm Turnbull really stands for because on gay marriage is another interesting point to make. We know personally he didn't support taking the vote to the people in a plebiscite which was Tony Abbott's idea and you also supported that in the Liberal Party meeting last month. We know Malcolm Turnbull didn't support it because he slammed it a month ago, listen to this, "that this issue is a live issue, all the way up to the next election and indeed at the next election, and if we are returned to office it will be a very live issue in the lead up to the plebiscite itself".

TOM TILLEY Malcolm Turnbull there and we heard him in Question Time today back the idea of a plebiscite after the next election. How do people know what he stands for?

JULIE BISHOP Well because the majority of the Party Room determine the policy and he said, quite famously, that he was going to consult very widely on any changes to policy and there was a policy decision of the Coalition that there be a plebiscite and Malcolm, like every other member, unless they cross the floor is bound to support policy. That's what Parliamentary democracy is about, that is what representative government means, that the majority rules. So there was a majority view, and not everybody agrees with it, the majority view that we would have a plebiscite so that the Australian people could have their say and Malcolm has now come to terms with that, that that is the majority view and it is democracy in action again for people to have their say. We're just the representatives of our electorates but the purest form of democracy is having the people vote directly as to what they want…

TOM TILLEY Well that's how they feel about their leader as well. They feel they voted for a party that had a leader at the time of the election and that was pure democracy to them.

JULIE BISHOP Well I don't want to be technical but you picked me up earlier by saying well that might technically be the case…

TOM TILLEY [Interrupting]it is technically true.

JULIE BISHOP No it's not. Technically each voter votes for ..

TOM TILLEY [Interrupting]Sure it's technically not true they don't vote for the leader.

JULIE BISHOP No well that's right so

TOM TILLEY ...we are a preferential system.

JULIE BISHOP No its not, and that is an important point we shouldn't brush over it. It is a very important point. We don't have a Presidential system in this country and wishing we did or wishing we didn't doesn't change things. The fact is we have a Parliamentary democracy which means that individuals stand for an electorate. There are 150 electorates across Australia, the voters vote for a candidate. In the case of the seat of Curtin, my seat, they vote on a ballot paper that says Julie Bishop and XYZ the other people they vote for, tick the box, Julie Bishop. Now of course I'm a member of the Liberal Party and so I bring with me all the support of the Liberal Party but then all those 150 people turn up and the party that has the most seats in the House gets to choose the leader and that is done by the Party Room. The Party Room chooses the leader.

TOM TILLEY Julie Bishop it's been great to speak to you on a day of so much cut and thrust in Federal Politics. Thanks so much for making time for us.

JULIE BISHOP My pleasure, thank you.

- Ends -

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