Malcolm Turnbull has hit back at Tony Abbott in a fiery interview with Leigh Sales, claiming the leadership of the Liberal party will be determined by the party – and not by his recent Newspolls results.
Appearing on ABC’s 7.30 on Monday night with Sales, the host brought up former PM Tony Abbott’s recent interview with Ray Hadley on 2GB radio, where he chastised the prime minister over his latest poll results.
The Newspoll, published in The Australian, revealed Turnbull had lost his 28th poll in a row on a two-party preferred basis.
In 2015, Turnbull famously used poor polling as a key weapon in overthrowing Abbott’s leadership. At the time Turnbull said: “The one thing that is clear about our current situation is the trajectory. We have lost 30 Newspolls in a row. It is clear that the people have made up their mind about Mr Abbott’s leadership.”
Addressing it in his radio chat, Abbott said that if Turnbull loses 30 polls in a row it would be “up to him to tell us all why the test doesn’t apply in his case”.
Asked if it was “fair” of Abbott to say it, Turnbull told Sales on Monday night’s show: “The only test that determines whether you lead the Liberal party or not, is having the support of the party.”
Not ready to let it go, Sales continued to challenge him, and he said: “The reality is the party room determines who leads the Liberal party.” That appeared to rile the host, who asked why his own benchmark wasn’t now applying to him too, and it pushed Turnbull to ask: “What would you suggest I do? Are you suggesting I do what Tony Abbott did?”
As Sales denied she was suggesting anything specific, Turnbull added: “When I challenged Tony Abbott, I identified a number of things. The most important point I made was that the country needed new economic leadership. And it needed a return to traditional cabinet government.
“I have delivered both – 403,000 jobs, you want a test for good economic leadership? I think the strongest jobs growth in our nation’s history probably passes the test.”
Quizzed again on whether he regrets opening up the “constant questioning about polls”, he eventually said: “It’s an observation I made in the course of mounting a challenge. Others are free to refer to it, but the leadership is determined by the party room.”
Elsewhere, asked what Aussies can expect from the upcoming budget, he said jobs, opportunity, essential services, economic growth, and bringing the budget back into surplus were the main targets.
The pair promptly discussed tax, and Turnbull made it clear straight away that he wants to include personal tax cuts in the economic plan.
“That is our goal. As you know, our aim, our focus is to provide tax relief for middle income Australians – further tax relief, we’ve already done that of course,” he told the interviewer
Asked if that meant personal income tax cuts, he said “obviously”. However, he added: “The timing and the extent of that is dependent, obviously, on the state of the budget. The budget’s eight weeks away so we don’t have long to wait.”
Meanwhile, he was quizzed about his recent agreement with US President Donald Trump, with the pair confirming Australia would be exempt from new steel and aluminium tariffs the US is imposing on most exporters.
Turnbull said the pair are yet to sign any written agreement on Australia’s exemption, and insisted no trade-off was made. “I had the discussion with him. We didn’t discuss any new security agreement at all,” he stated.
The pair exchanged a series of tweets on Saturday, and Trump praised Turnbull and “the great nation of Australia” in his announcement.
“He is committed to having a very fair and reciprocal military and trade relationship,” Trump said on Twitter, referring to Turnbull. “Working very quickly on a security agreement so we don’t have to impose steel or aluminum tariffs on our ally, the great nation of Australia.”
Spoke to PM @TurnbullMalcolm of Australia. He is committed to having a very fair and reciprocal military and trade relationship. Working very quickly on a security agreement so we don’t have to impose steel or aluminum tariffs on our ally, the great nation of Australia!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 9, 2018
Turnbull soon replied with his own tweet, saying Australia had “no closer ally” than the US.
“Great discussion today on security and trade. Australia/US trade is fair & reciprocal & each of our nations has no closer ally,” he wrote. “Thank you for confirming new tariffs won’t have to be imposed on Australian steel & aluminium – good for jobs in Australia and in US!”
Great discussion today on security and trade. Australia/US trade is fair & reciprocal & each of our nations has no closer ally.Thank you for confirming new tariffs won’t have to be imposed on Australian steel & aluminium – good for jobs in Australia and in US! https://t.co/9ZKMw5n1dZ
— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) March 9, 2018
The announcement is a major diplomatic victory for the Turnbull government, which has been lobbying hard for Australia to be exempt from the tariffs.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, US Ambassador Joe Hockey and other senior members of government argued Australia should be let off the hook because of its strong military and security ties to the US.