ABC Radio National – 5 February, 2015

PRESENTER:

A threat to the Prime Minister’s leadership, its grown. Arthur Sinodinos emerging as the most senior Liberal thus far to break ranks and criticise Tony Abbott, that follows Jeff Kennett’s high profile intervention in the turmoil that is engulfing the Federal Government. The former Victorian Premier described Tony Abbott’s leadership as terminal.

Now the backbench push for a ballot next week is stepping up a notch, the Prime Minister is depending more and more, if that happens, on the circling wagons of his Cabinet. Defence Minister Kevin Andrews is one of Tony Abbott’s closest and most trusted allies and he’s speaking here with political editor Alison Carabine.

ALISON CARABINE:

Kevin Andrews, good morning.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Good morning Alison.

ALISON CARABINE:

Minister, Arthur Sinodinos says his support for Tony Abbott is not unconditional. He’s a well-respected figure within the Coalition can this backbench unrest still be dismissed as just the grumblings from a small number of MPs or the hyperventilation by the media as Eric Abetz put it yesterday.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well the reality is that the Cabinet is concentrating on the challenges that are facing the Australian people, assuring them that we’ve got a plan to grow the economy, create jobs and give opportunity for all. To continue the way this is going in the media is simply self-indulgent and will ultimately be self-defeating.

ALISON CARABINE:

And that’s a message for, to people like Arthur Sinodinos?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Look, the Australian people elected this government to end the chaos that we saw in the Rudd Gillard Rudd musical chairs that existed in the previous Labor administration. We’ve got to show the Australian people we are concerned about their issues, that we’re addressing the challenges that they know are there. And there are very many facing the country at the moment and we’re doing that and that’s what Cabinet has shown over the last week.

ALISON CARABINE:

But can you really get on and do that, what you’ve just spelled out, the Cabinet’s direction, if the leadership issue is not tackled day by day? More MPs are speaking out publicly, can you really afford to keep bleeding like this without confronting the issue in the Party Room at the earliest opportunity?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Look there’s a small group of people who are disaffected or unhappy for a variety of reasons, but the reality is that the senior members of this government represented by the Cabinet are solidly behind the Prime Minister. We want to get and address the problems facing the Australian people. I mean that’s what the Prime Minister did this past week announcing a new families package, in announcing tax cuts for small business. These are the sort of things the Australian people want us to do.

ALISON CARABINE:

Well he flagged those policies, if it is just a small group of people the MPs, why not test those numbers is the Party Room? Is the reason why the Prime Minister won’t face this head on and call a ballot is because he fears he would lose it?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Far from it I’m quite confident the Prime Minister will lead us to the next election and I’m optimistic we can win the next election.

ALISON CARABINE:

Well then why not have the ballot then to confirm that?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Ah every time there is discontent in a political party you don’t have a ballot. Look there were many times, I served in the Howard Government, there were many times when John Howard was unpopular, that we were behind in the polls. The answer for that is not this merry-go-round of changing leaders every five minutes. The answer is to address the issues that the Australian people have and if individuals in the party have issues that they believe should be taken up they should be talking to the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, to myself, to the Cabinet about what their issues are. That’s the constructive way of doing things, that’s the adult way and that’s what the Australian people deserve.

ALISON CARABINE:

Kevin Andrews you’re the most senior Victorian Minister in the Cabinet, Jeff Kennett has called on the party to deal with the leadership issue as quickly as possible, especially with New South Wales going to the polls next month. Jeff Kennett is a former, successful Liberal Premier, why isn’t he worth listening to?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Look we listen to everybody but that doesn’t mean that all commentary and the static occurring at the moment is all accurate or true. Jeff had his ups and downs; Jeff was ultimately defeated so you know we have to balance these things up and as I said we can’t have this continual chaos in Australia where five minutes later you’re changing the leader of the party of the government.

ALISON CARABINE:

But if matters do come to a head next week and it could be out of the Prime Minister’s control and there is a change of leader Malcolm Turnbull has emerged as the most likely person to replace Tony Abbott. Back in 2009 you moved the first spill motion against Malcolm Turnbull which eventually led to his removal as Liberal leader; six years on could you serve in a Cabinet led by a Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Look that’s an entirely hypothetical question but there’s a big difference…

ALISON CARABINE:

Which could soon become a reality…

MINISTER ANDREWS:

There’s a big different between what happens in Opposition. In Opposition the people expect that political parties will sort out their direction. I mean the difference between then and now is was there was a major policy issue of significance widely in the party and the community which we were trying to resolve. This (inaudible) disgruntlement here is without a cause, where’s the big, significant policy issue that people are addressing. There is none and it’s entirely different.

ALISON CARABINE:

But Malcolm Turnbull’s support for action on climate change could be a sticking point if he does pledge not to reintroduce a price on carbon, at least not until the rest of the world moves. Would that make him more palatable to the right of the party?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well as I said this is entirely hypothetical because the Cabinet, including Malcolm Turnbull, are behind the Prime Minister and that’s the situation.

ALISON CARABINE:

Okay Minister if I could just take you to your Defence portfolio, the National Security Committee of Cabinet was briefed yesterday on the implications for the Middle East over that terrible atrocity concerning that Jordanian pilot. Jordan has responded by executing two terrorists, seems to be becoming an eye for an eye. Where could all of this end?

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Well this once again reminds of how critical it is to defeat the Daesh death cult. I mean the reality is that execution, that torture and execution of the Jordanian pilot was pure evil, nothing less. And that strengthens our resolve and I believe the Coalition, the allies who are fighting Daesh the death cult in the Middle East to actually defeat them because there’s no other way to recoil in horror at the evil of that action.

ALISON CARABINE:

Which everybody did. Australia has pilots on combat missions against ISIS, what happened must have chilled you to the bone.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

I think it chilled everybody who has any degree of humanity in them to the bone. That’s why we’ve got to keep Australia safe and secure, it’s why you know we’re spending an extra $630 million on police and security services to combat the threat of home-grown extremism in Australia and why we’re committed to ridding the world of the Daesh death cult.

ALISON CARABINE:

Kevin Andrews thanks for your time.

MINISTER ANDREWS:

Thanks Alison