ABC star Leigh Sales ripped into Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in a fiery interview on 7.30 last night, accusing him of failing to make a single, signature achievement in his two years of leading the government.
Sales was on the attack straight off the bat, with her first question knocking the PM’s legacy.
“You’ve been Prime Minister now for nearly two years. How is it possible that in all of that time you’ve not yet managed to have a signature achievement?” she asked.
In response, Turnbull listed school funding, the reduction of company tax, childcare reforms and the restoration of the Building and Construction Commission, but Sales wasn’t satisfied, noting that bringing in Commonwealth school funding was a continuation of a Labor policy.
“Look Leigh, you can be as negative as you like …” Turnbull hit back, suggesting that the Snowy Hydro project was another key achievement.
Sales wasn’t satisfied with that, either, saying that the renewable energy project – the largest in Australia’s history – was still in the feasibility study stage so couldn’t be counted as an ‘achievement’.
But Turnbull wasn’t taking that laying down, telling Sales that although she may not be interested in affordable energy, ordinary Australians were, as they were with how the government was encouraging investment, which he said the government was doing by improving infrastructure, and keeping them safe, which he said the government was addressing through tighter anti-terror laws.
“Let me say to you, when I get out into the pubs of Australia, and into the cafes and into the sidewalks, when I get out into regional Australia, what Australians are talking about is energy, they want to know what we’re doing to keep energy affordable and reliable and Snowy Hydro is a big part about that,” Turnbull said.
“They want to know what we’re doing to keep them safe, they want to know what we’re doing to encourage investment and employment, that’s what they’re focused on and that’s where we’re delivering.”
The interview then descended into back-and-forth over coal-fired power stations and clean energy targets, and whether Turnbull had delivered the ‘free market government’ he promised.
“Leigh, please don’t interrupt me so much that I can’t even finish a sentence,” Turnbull asked at one point in the discussion, with Sales snapping back, “I won’t interrupt you if you answer the question”.
The interview then moved on to marriage equality and the prospect that if Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce lost a High Court decision over his citizenship, a by-election could bring about the end of the Coalition government. Joyce is one of several senators caught out by a section of the constitution that forbids members of parliament from holding dual citizenship.
The PM said that he was confident that the High Court would decide that Joyce would not be disqualified from sitting in parliament, but Sales pressed him on whether he had a contingency plan to deal with the event that the decision may go against Joyce.
“You say you don’t want to speculate on hypotheticals but again, when you first became Prime Minister and you came on this program you said you want to lead a government that respects the intelligence of the Australian people,” she asked.
“I do, I do,” Turnbull responded, prompting Sales to ask, “Do you really think the public will believe you haven’t considered the prospect of what happens if Barnaby Joyce loses in the High Court?”.
Turnbull conceded that he had considered the prospect, and that he remained confident that even in the event of a by-election, Joyce would win his seat again.
Finally, Sales brought up opinion polls, and whether Turnbull was concerned about the fact that he had lost 18 Newspolls in a row, noting that he called a spill against predecessor Tony Abbott after Abbott lost 30 in a row.
“I’m very confident we will win the next election,” the Prime Minister insisted, before attempting to cut off Sales’ questioning, saying to the presenter, “I’m really not interested in going along with this sort of political commentary that you want to engage in”, then adding to Sales, “It’s your job to run the commentary, cynical, however you want to do it, you can run that. My job is to look after Australians and ensure that they can get ahead”.