In one of his most explosive TV chats to date, Malcolm Turnbull has taken aim at his former Liberal colleagues in an hour-long solo appearance – claiming some of the key players in the Liberal leadership spill essentially “blew up the government” when they ousted him as prime minister.
In his first significant media appearance since he was toppled from the Australian political leadership position, Turnbull named everyone from Peter Dutton to Greg Hunt and Mathias Cormann as he slammed the 45 people responsible for his downfall on ABC’s Q&A.
When asked why he is no longer prime minister, he said: “The only people who can answer that are the people who engineered the coup.”
He went on to name specific names including Dutton, Abbott, Cormann, Fifield, Cash, Hunt, Ciobo, Keenan, Taylor, before adding: “[They] effectively blew up the government.”
He went on: “There were 45 of them. Most of them are well known, they have to answer that question… I described it at the time as madness… Why a number chose to blow the government up when they did, only they can answer that.”
Turnbull appeared fairly at ease throughout the show, despite facing a barrage of difficult questions from the audience, and he added of the leadership ‘coup’: “The reality is people have got to be adults and accountable.
“So, when you elect someone to be a member of parliament, you’re posing in them a solemn and sacred responsibility, and they need to be able to stand up and say why they do things.
“So when people act in, what I thought was madness, to bring my prime ministership to an end, they need to explain why they did it and none of them have.”
He continued: “It was so obvious that the coup that occurred was going to be destructive and there’d be no upside to it. Of course that’s how it turned out.
“It never occurred to me that those people would act in a way that was going to be so damaging to the government and to the nation.”
While Dutton was the first to challenge Turnbull for the leadership, the former PM has remained fairly tight-lipped on his former colleague in the aftermath. However, he held nothing back in the no-holds-barred chat on Thursday.
“The insurgency was led by Peter Dutton, Scott [Morrison] did not support it,” he insisted.
As the host recalled the moment Morrison put his arm round Turnbull and pledged his loyalty to him on TV, Turnbull joked: “He’s very tactile and friendly!”
Elsewhere, Turnbull earned himself a round of applause as he launched into a passionate speech about the lack of respect for women in Australian politics – insisting it’s currently seriously “out of date”.
“I believe the culture in parliament is not sufficiently respectful of women. As someone who came in from the corporate sector, I’d say it’s decades out of date. It’s very blokey and there is insufficient respect for women,” he said on the show.
He added: “Just about every woman in parliament will confirm that in one way or another… You have to lead by example, I have done so, and you have to speak up for respect of women.”
One way Turnbull famously pushed for reforms was by introducing his ‘bonking ban’ after Barnaby Joyce’s affair with staffer Vikki Campion was exposed.
He said of the sex ban: “You’d think you wouldn’t need to do it! You’d think it would be pretty obvious. I wanted to ensure parliament as a workplace respected women in a way that a modern workplace must do.”
And asked about alleged bullying of women in politics, one audience member asked the former PM whether the results of an investigation into these claims should be made public. He replied: “Everything in parliament should be accountable… People are entitled to know what happened in the course of these events.”
Joyce himself took centre stage in part of the hour-long chat, as one audience member launched into a lengthy question, stating: “He’s [Joyce] described as, in some circles, ‘Australia’s greatest retail politician’.
“Given the question marks that hang over his head in relation to misconduct and mismanagement – to cite two quick examples, the Murray-Darling scheme and a more obvious catastrophe might be something like putting his toe in the water for a leadership tilt in the lead-up to the Wentworth by-election – is he really one of Australia’s great retail politicians, or perhaps maybe more of a liability to himself, his party and, more broadly, the Coalition?”
Turnbull earned laughs from the crowd as he simply replied: “I think I should take that as a comment.”
The audience member then joked: “To draw to you Scott Morrison’s remarks about the Australian parliament resembling a Muppet Show at the time of you being deposed – if we were to talk about Barnaby being in the cast, would he be Gonzo or Becker?”
Turnbull laughed and replied: “Look, I’m sure Scott regrets that analogy.”
Later in the chat, Turnbull was confronted about his own part in taking over leadership from Tony Abbott previously.
When an audience member compared that to Dutton’s attempt this time round, Turnbull insisted it was different and said: “I explained what my reasons were, openly, I set out my agenda, won the ballot and set out to deliver that agenda. It was very warmly welcomed by the Australian people.”
The tell-all chat went on to address Turnbull’s missing face during the Wentworth by-election, but when pressed on his lack of public support, he made a surprising admission that he needed to spend time away from the limelight for his own “peace of mind”.
“I did support Dave Sharma, we gave him our blessing and endorsement. There was no question that he had our support,” he insisted of the Liberal candidate.
“My judgement, given the circumstances, was that, were I to be seen campaigning, it wouldn’t have been helpful for Dave’s prospects.”
He added: “It wouldn’t have been good for my own peace of mind. It was good and timely for us [he and wife Lucy] to step back at that time.”
From there however, he hit out at a terrible week in politics in the week prior to the by-election, even claiming Sharma would have won it if it had happened the weekend before. He said: “He would have won it the week before. I believe the by-election was lost in the last week.”
He concluded: “My days as an active political participant have come to an end.”