LISA WILKINSON: You know it’s been a big week in politics when the Taiwanese animators give our MPs their trademark treatment and what a week it was. Malcolm Turnbull taking back the Liberal leadership from the very man who took it from him six years before. The move has proved popular with voters, with the new government already enjoying a bounce in the polls, leaping ahead of Labor for the first time in 16 months.
So to break down an extraordinary week, Education Minister Christopher Pyne and Labor’s Anthony Albanese. Good morning to both of you.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Morning Lisa.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to be with you – he’ll have a new title next week.
WILKINSON: Well we’ll wait and see. We’ll get to that in just a moment. We will start with you Christopher. Now the Australian Financial Review is reporting this morning that Tony Abbott was sure he had your support as late as last Sunday night and as we now know he didn’t. You ended up voting for Malcolm Turnbull, is that true?
PYNE: Well he did have my support on Sunday night because there was no leadership ballot or challenge in fact, ’til Monday. And until Julie Bishop went to see Tony Abbott, I was utterly unaware that there would be a challenge. In fact I said to Tony Abbott on the weekend I didn’t believe there’d be a challenge this week before the Canning by-election.
WILKINSON: So who were the key colleagues that Julie Bishop has talked about when she realised that there were enough numbers to ensure that Tony Abbott was no longer going to be leader should a challenge kick off?
PYNE: Not me.
WILKINSON: So you weren’t one of them?
PYNE: No. So if she spoke to colleagues and sought their views, I guess you’d have to ask her that question but she didn’t speak to me to seek my view about that matter.
WILKINSON: So clearly 24 hours is a long time in politics. At what time on Monday did Tony Abbott lose your support?
PYNE: Well I’ve tried to make a habit this week of not raking over old coals and Monday’s old coals in politics, amazingly, especially by Friday. But on Monday, when there was obviously going to be a ballot, I made an assessment about what was best for the country. What’s best for the country is that Bill Shorten and the union movement are not running the nation again.
WILKINSON: But you also made a decision that Tony Abbott wasn’t the best for the country?
PYNE: Well a decision was made by my colleagues and I, as one of them, that Malcolm Turnbull was the person who could best position the Government to win again and keep Labor out of office and deliver good government.
WILKINSON: And that all turned around in the space of a few hours?
PYNE: Well that’s what happens in politics, it’s quite fast moving. And as John Howard said, it’s the ruthless arithmetic of the polls. For two years we’d been behind in the polls. Now as Andrew Robb says, it’s like the share price. If the share price is trailing along at the bottom after two years questions start getting asked. And Tony Abbott had a warning in February, from the party room. Seven months later things weren’t any better. So it was very hard for anyone to argue that he wasn’t given absolutely every opportunity to prove that he was the best person to lead the party.
WILKINSON: And loyalty clearly doesn’t count for much in your game, does it?
PYNE: Well it does. For example, I was Malcolm Turnbull’s Manager of Opposition Business and Shadow Education Minister. I then transitioned to Tony Abbott. He believed that he would get my support and he received it for five years as Leader of the House and Education Minister and I hope that I’ll stay as Leader of the House under Malcolm Turnbull because I’m one of those people in politics, not unlike Anthony, that people know where I stand on most issues and I’m prepared to argue my case.
But I don’t move around in the shadows and do the job on people. I come from the front not from the back.
WILKINSON: I thought you were a fixer?
PYNE: Well you can fix from the front you don’t have to fix just from the back, Lisa.
WILKINSON: Really? So you stab from the front do you?
PYNE: Well, the truth is on Sunday there was no leadership ballot. On Monday there was and I made an assessment. I haven’t made any secret of that.
WILKINSON: Wow, that’s a very quick flip. What did Malcolm Turnbull promise you in return for your support?
PYNE: You’ve got to be nimble in politics Lisa.
WILKINSON: Nobody would accuse you of not being nimble.
PYNE: Agile and nimble.
WILKINSON: What has Malcolm Turnbull promised you in return for your support?
PYNE: Well he hasn’t promised me anything.
WILKINSON: So you have no idea what ministry you’re going to get?
PYNE: Well I know that I’m the Education Minister at the moment.
WILKINSON: But you’d like Defence, wouldn’t you?
PYNE: I’d like to either keep Education or move to a portfolio that he wants for me. But he hasn’t promised me anything. I don’t need to be promised something to support …
WILKINSON: In return for your vote?
PYNE: To support the Government. No, I think the best government for Australia is a Liberal Government. I don’t want to see Bill Shorten and the CFMEU back at the Cabinet table and that was an assessment that I made on Monday. Now I would be surprised if I was dropped from the Cabinet, given I think I’m doing a reasonable job in the last few years.
ALBANESE: I think that’s unlikely.
WILKINSON: And you did vote for the new Prime Minister.
PYNE: It’s a matter for him. I think it’s unlikely too but we’ll see I suppose.
WILKINSON: To you now Anthony. Anthony this change in Prime Minister has spelt disaster for Labor.
ALBANESE: Well Tony Abbott divided the nation, but Malcolm Turnbull has divided the Coalition. And we’re seeing already everything from Young Liberal brawls quite extraordinary – physically – to the sort of division that’s there and rancour over who voted for whom, over who’ll be rewarded and next Monday there will be winners and losers. And the losers will no doubt continue to undermine Malcolm Turnbull and Malcolm Turnbull we’re seeing fighting with himself.
I mean, it’s quite extraordinary for a bloke who says he was a conviction politician to turn around and adopt Tony Abbott’s policies on climate change, on water, on marriage equality. That’s not the actions of a conviction politician. That’s the action of someone who’s put his own personal ambition before his ambition for the country.
WILKINSON: Regardless of all that, a Galaxy Poll out this morning showing Malcolm Turnbull leads Bill Shorten 51 to 20 as preferred PM. When will you be tapping Bill Shorten on the shoulder?
ALBANESE: Now there’s always a bounce when there’s a new leader.
WILKINSON: But that’s a huge bounce.
ALBANESE: No, no it’s not actually.
WILKINSON: And this is that middle ground that Labor were always nervous about. People who felt like they didn’t get a choice. They didn’t want Tony Abbott, they didn’t want Bill Shorten, they were looking for somebody and they seem to have found him.
ALBANESE: This has actually been a very small bounce. Normally, what you see – go back and have a look at what happened when Julia Gillard took over, in circumstances, that I don’t think were ideal, just like this week. I think the idea of knocking off a first term elected Prime Minister is a very big step indeed.
WILKINSON: Labor has to be very careful on that though, after the Rudd – Gillard – Rudd era. You have to be very careful about having a go at anyone else who does that.
ALBANESE: Well I’ve been pretty consistent, Lisa as you know. And I think that the circumstances, there are differences. Kevin Rudd certainly was popular at the time he was deposed and Tony Abbott certainly has been unpopular.
PYNE: What sort of a bounce do you think you’d get if you were Labor leader, Anthony?
ALBANESE: Well that’s not going to happen.
WILKINSON: Well tell us about that because Kevin Rudd, this is our last question we’re just running out of time. Kevin Rudd changed the rules on how Labor leaders are elected from within the party. He changed the rules to the point, is it actually possible to get a new Labor leader before the next election? What would have to happen?
ALBANESE: Well the rules don’t matter. What matters is the political conviction of our team. And our team is united, we’re determined to put those sorts of divisions in the past and that’s why I’ve been working every day to be a Minister in a Shorten Labor Government. That’s my objective. That’s a lot more desirable than being Leader of the Opposition.
WILKINSON: But that conviction will fall away as we know. Heading towards the election, if you don’t get those numbers back you will have to change leaders.
ALBANESE: Well hang on a tick here Lisa; those numbers back. You’re talking about the worst poll being 49 2PP today immediately after a change of leadership. It doesn’t get better than the bounce that you get immediately after a leadership change.
WILKINSON: All right I tell you what, between the two of you, life is never dull politically in this country.
ALBANESE: A lot has happened in the last week I’ve got to say.
WILKINSON: We all need the weekend off.
PYNE: We’re getting a bit old for it too Anthony I think.
WILKINSON: Really, you think so?
PYNE: We’re not as nimble as we used to be.
WILKINSON: I don’t believe that for a second.
ALBANESE: He showed a bit of nimbleness this week.
WILKINSON: Well he turned up this week so that’s an indication there’s been a lot going on. Thanks very much and have a good weekend.
ALBANESE: I think I was right last week though in the prediction last Friday, I said all this was about to be played out.
WILKINSON: He did, he brought along his crystal ball.
PYNE: You have better insight than I did.
ALBANESE: Here on the Today Show.
PYNE: You heard it here first.
WILKINSON: That halo is starting to drop above your head Christopher. Over to you David.