Malcolm Turnbull clashes heads with Tony Jones in tense Lateline interview

It’s never easy to interview the Prime Minister when the country’s watching but Lateline’s Tony Jones took the bait last
via ABC video

It’s never easy to interview the Prime Minister when the country’s watching but Lateline’s Tony Jones took the bait last night and went for it, asking Malcolm Turnbull questions that left him looking quite uncomfortable.

After a week of criticism, it was clear there were some things the PM wanted to get off his chest in the tense interview.

It was Turnbull’s first time on Lateline since becoming PM, and judging by his reaction, perhaps it might be his last.

Jones got right down to business, starting the interview by asking, “Belgium’s Prime Minister says that your claim that Belgium’s using the refugee crisis to send operatives into Europe was dangerous and he says it’s exactly what ISIS wants – confusion between terrorism and migrants. Did you go too far in that speech?”

“No. My job as Prime Minister of Australia is to explain these events to Australians and in particular to explain the context, to explain where there are similarities and where there are differences”, said Turnbull.

Jones asked if the PM stood by his claim that recent intelligence suggested that ISIS was infiltrating people to Europe among the refugees and the PM quipped back, “Well, I don’t think anyone would seriously doubt what I said”.

The host then prodded about the reasoning behind only allowing 26 Syrian refugees into Australia despite saying 12,000 were going to be coming in.

“Well we are taking great care. We take security and border protection very seriously. And our agencies are checking all of the security details, the antecedents and so forth, of the Syrian intake. We are expecting to take 12,000 additional refugees in addition to … our recurrent humanitarian intake, our regular intake”.

“Sure but specifically on that question is the fear which you expressed that ISIS is infiltrating terrorists in the refugee flow?”, asked Jones

“Can I tell you it’s not a fear? It’s not a fear. It is a, it is a…We are not afeared. We look at this in a very clear-eyed way and we protect the security of Australians diligently and in a very realistic and pragmatic way.

“And we make no apology for that. My job as Prime Minister of Australia, first and foremost, is to keep Australians safe”.

Jones then moved on to the PM’s routine of using slogans: “Are you going to change your slogan “continuity and change” now that you’ve realised how silly it is?”

“Well it’s not, it’s not a slogan and I’m not into slogans”, replied the PM.

They then argued about what a slogan was before Turnbull said, “No I’ve not used that slogan. I’ve subsequently learned that there was a slogan used in the American sitcom “Veep” – change with continuity or continuity with change”.

“Which they chose incidentally because it was the most meaningless election slogan they could think of”, quipped Jones.

He pressed further: “So does this reflect on your own choices?”

“It really reflects on your choices that we’ve spent so little time on national security and now we’re talking about an American sitcom. But let me just…”

“Actually as a matter of fact you raised the American sitcom”, Jones fired back.

“Yeah well, that was where you were heading. Let me just make this point Tony: the point that I made was in respect of questions about Mr Abbott and myself. And I made the point that when there is a change of prime minister, and in fact this applies even when there’s a change of government from one party to another, there are policies that continue, so there is continuity and there are policies that change.

And that is a fact. It is not a slogan it is a fact”.

They then discussed Tony Abbott’s involvement in Turnbull’s prime ministership.

“In a long campaign how are you going to deal with the ghost of governments passed?”, Jones asked.

“Well, I think Australians are not very interested, other than yourself of course, in the ghost of governments passed. What they’re interested in are the prospects of the future government. What they want to know is who is best able to manage Australia’s economy”.

Tony Jones responded: “But in any election campaign there’s tremendous interest in what happens behind the scenes, and not only behind the scenes, but on television when Tony Abbott came forward and said what he said. It raised the question whether he’s in a sense playing Kevin Rudd to your Julia Gillard, whether you could end up facing that same kind of psycho-drama that played out during the 2010 election, whether he could undermine your support over a period of time. Isn’t that a concern?”

“No. The Australian people are concerned about who can best ensure that their children and grandchildren will have great, well-paid jobs in the future. They’re concerned about the choice between me and Bill Shorten. That’s the choice that will face Australians at the election”, said the PM.

Jones asked, “Have you got an assurance yet from Tony Abbott that he won’t interfere in the campaign since he’s already done it on day one?”

The PM shook off the question and said, “Tony, my focus is on leadership, on economic leadership in this context”.

Tell us, do you think the PM answered all your questions honestly? Was Tony Jones fair?

  1. Royce R. Baucke  

    Of course Tony was fair in his interview with the Prime Minister…when you are the leader of the country you must be ready, stay calm, and focused, with your reply no matter how or what is asked of you. Turnbull is finding out, being a Prime Minister, is not about using fancy terms and flashy words, but about giving strong positive direction to the people of this country. He must take a much harder line in dealing with the antics and foolishness of Abbott – or else he is going under like others before him. RRB.

    • Stuart Rowland  

      Malcolm waffled as only Malcolm can. He was uneasy about almost all the lines of questioning and he attempted to direct the lines of questioning to more comfortable topics. His support for Sinodenos is taking the same tack as his support for all the others who were eventually forced to stand down Sinodenos has a black mark against him already, I do hope that Malcolm is not supporting another lost cause, otherwise his judgement will be called into question. He clearly has a problem with the Treasurer and this will be an interesting cameo to play out.

  2. frances  

    Honestly why do we have to have these aggressive interviews about nothing. No Tony we the Australian public are interested in a PM that can govern Asutralia in the best interests of Australia and certainly Mr Turnbull is clear concise and measured. All this beat up by the media about who said what and when is tiresome. It’s a tough world out there and so far Australia is doing ok. Must be managed right, ! Just let him do his job and you can have your say on Election Day.

    • G Martin  

      It would be great if Malcom Turnbull was doing his job but unfortunately like most Leaders he does not have the people’s interests in mind

    • Crap – we need to ensure that journalists continue to ask tough questions, and especially from the prime minister. This is meant to be a democracy with proper media not a third Reich style propaganda machine.

  3. K. Miller  

    Turnbull is weak on leadership and every bit as slippery as Abbott. Doing nothing but talking fancy with a big smile is not leadership. Julia Gillard had a minority government, yet managed to get more legislation through the senate and parliament than any other present and previous government, that’s negotiation skills and leadership.

  4. David Gregory  

    Tony Jones, in common with most media “commentators” and “interviewers”, is only interested in attempting to create controversy with their guests. He, like all the others, fails miserably. They also fail to understand that the viewing public is only concerned with hearing about the issues, not the childish peripheral questions about nothing.

    • The childish peripheral issues came from the prime minister who refused to answer the serious and justifiably tough questions asked by Tony Jones. Turnbull’s arrogance will become his downfall.

  5. facebook_elda.quinton  

    “the ghost of governments past” ….not passed! It’s a lot more difficult for countries in Europe to police their borders obviously. They can hardly build walls around each country.

  6. Doug  

    Tony Jones is a blight on decent journalism and media. This interview was no different from any others he has done with conservative politicians and he treated Mr Turnbull no differently to how he has treated any conservative politician or supporter in the past. I stopped watching Q & A years ago because of his bias and differences in how he treats guests, with his hand-picked audiences and orchestrated questions, designed to allow the left to promote and make the right defend. Jones has to realise that he is an interviewer and reporter, not a news maker, and not a PR officer for half of politics. His cancer has spread through the ABC – I have also stopped listening to ABC Radio, except for Trevor Chappell overnight – he’s a good guy and unbiased.

    • Paul o'Dowd  

      Funny that, I stopped watching Q&A for precisely the reason that I could never get my comments published on their Twitter stream.
      I put a conscious effort into what I hope are mostly polite, sometimes angry and usually awkward questions or comments. Most of my contributions were made in an effort to remind the readers of inconsistencies in the duplicitous offerings of many of the guests on that program. I see the constant inclusion of idiotic, inane and often extreme comments which add nothing to the debate. I see preschool humour and low brow attack comments amongst pretty much the full spectrum of what you’d expect from the internet citizenry. What I don’t see in the Twitter feed, however, is really challenging probing of particular issues, which is why I posted my contributions.
      Now I do not think for a second that my ideas are unique, or that I’m even close to the only one trying to get these sorts of ideas onto the Q&A Twitter ticker. The only way I can explain the ever growing herd of elephants in the Q&A public discussion room, is that some active filters are being applied to the published Twitter stream
      I won’t go into examples here, but whilst some excellent commentary has of course been submitted to the stream, it is very clear that certain directions of inquiry are simply avoided.
      Now here’s the kicker, I’m probably what you would call a bit of a lefty. I’m unashamedly suspicious of the corporophilic puppets on either side of politics and I’ll call them out when I see their efforts at managing our opinions against our better interests.
      I feel strongly that the producers of that program are deliberately sanitising the stream in a way that goes far beyond the simple objectives of maintaining an acceptable bar for decorum and decency in the published comments.
      You may well be driven into a “trolling rage” by my next assertion, as many right wing interlocutors seem inclined, but I’m going for it anyway;
      Q&A is a very effective propaganda vehicle precisely because of the “grass rootsy” vox pop format. While important and genuine discussion is had on many issues, certain issues, and critically relevant facets of issues are being managed by what appears overwhelmingly to be right wing pressure. The PR industry call the production of opinion management content that looks like it is coming from the “grass roots” ; “astroturfing”. Their term, not mine.
      Be it fear of funding insecurity or actual apparatchiks in the studio or on the board, the program does not truly take the fascists who are eroding our society to task in a way that reveals their true agendas.

      • Mike lyon  

        And i assume you like listening to biased left wing rude commentators.

  7. I long for the days to return when journalists were reporters not commentators with their own agendas. If they just give us the facts, we are quite able to make up our own minds about these things without their input.

    • Obviously can’t read – Tony mainly asked questions, like any good journalist of his caliber, which then got turned into a farce by the prime minister who couldn’t hold his own. Turnbull needs some serious media training. But Tony is just doing what a journalist does – and you seem to underestimate his fan base, the thinking part of the Australian electorate!

  8. Of course Tony Jones was fair – he always is. His role as a journalist is to ask the tough questions, the ones we as the electorate want to have asked. We don’t want to be fed propaganda crap dressed up as pseudo-news. And the ABC is the guardian of that role and needs to protect its journalists and ensure it can continue to operate as independent media in a political environmet that has seen increasing attacks by politicians on what needs to always be independent media asking tough questions. Go, Tony!!!

  9. barry scofield  

    W,hen has any politician answered a question honestly? They are asked for a straight yes or no reply and they spend the next 20 minutes walking you around the equator and outer space and anywhere they can without referring to the question.
    An easy test to the yes/no is if they wont answer they are hiding the truth.

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