Transcript by Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

Sky News PVO News Day with Peter Van Onselen

E & OE

VAN ONSELEN: Senator, can I just start by asking. What drew you to a change of leader? Replicating the removal of a first term Prime Minister. There are differences of course, but replicating the fact of removing a first term Prime Minister is not something that a lot of us, probably you either thought the Liberal Party would do after what happened with Kevin Rudd.

FIFIELD: Peter, as a government there are things that we wanted to do and still want to do. And that’s obviously to cut expenditure, to cut the deficit, to reform the tax system, to grow the economy and create jobs. And we weren’t making progress on those fronts and communicating with the electorate what our plan was. And what we wanted to ensure, what we couldn’t contemplate, was the risk of Bill Shorten becoming Prime Minister. So a majority of colleagues, as expressed through the vote in the Party Room, decided that we needed to change and that’s what happened yesterday.

VAN ONSELEN: And that was your view was it Senator? Your view was that the risk was just too great that Bill Shorten would win the next election, given how the Government was travelling under Tony Abbott’s leadership?

FIFIELD: Well that’s a risk that a majority of colleagues just could not contemplate. And, as I say, we are a government that does have plans. We are a government that does have an agenda. But there were difficulties, it’s got to be accepted, it’s got to be acknowledged, in communicating that to the Australian people, to articulating that we did have a plan, that we did have an agenda, that at a time of uncertainty, economically, that they could trust us. So when you’re having difficulty communicating those messages, that also compounds in terms your ability to navigate things through the Parliament. So, the view of colleagues was that we needed to change. I think, and I know, that this is an extremely difficult time for colleagues. It’s something that I’ve found extremely difficult. But, we are here in this position as Members of Parliament ultimately to do what we think is best for the nation, and that is what we’ve done.

VAN ONSELEN: You’ve talked about colleagues and obviously a majority of colleagues wanted to make this change, but just to clarify, you were supporting Malcolm Turnbull weren’t you? You did walk into the room with him along with others like Scott Ryan and Arthur Sinodinos, Wyatt Roy as well.

FIFIELD: I did and, look, I believe in being up front about what you do in ballots. I have been during each ballot I’ve been in the Party Room for. We now have an opportunity to explain to the Australian people in a new way, in a way that’s warm, in a way that’s embracing, in a way that’s inclusive. There’s a tremendous opportunity here for the Party and for the Government and I know that my colleagues collectively will seize that.

VAN ONSELEN: But how will you ensure that the divisions won’t become the story? I mean I spoke to Senator Cory Bernadi, a little bit earlier, he made it clear that he for one wouldn’t be doing any white anting. He seemed to suggest that there is a hell of a lot of animosity in the ranks.

FIFIELD: These are difficult decisions for each member of the Party Room. Party Room members genuinely wrestle to determine what is in the best interests of the Government, what is in the best interests of the community. It would be concerning if members of the Party Room didn’t wrestle with these matters. I acknowledge there are colleagues who would have preferred a different outcome. But we are an extremely broad tent. As a party we cover a broad range of perspectives. We are stronger when we have those perspectives together. Cory is a good friend of mine and on this occasion we reached a different conclusion. But I very much look forward to continuing to work with all my colleagues for our common purpose, which is to create economic growth, to see jobs created, to establish a better and fairer tax system…

VAN ONSELEN: Senator can I just jump in though. I just want to jump in and ask you about your confidence I suppose in Malcolm Turnbull being able to do what Tony Abbott wasn’t able to do, and therefore make the shift. It’s a really interesting story, you were one of the three Shadow Parliamentary Secretaries who signed the letter penning your resignations during Turnbull’s first stint as leader at about the same time as this in 2009, it was yourself, it was Brett Mason, he’s now enjoying Amsterdam as the Ambassador over there, and of course the other one was Mathias Cormann who is the Finance Minister and one of the key numbers men supporting Tony Abbott yesterday. What shifted you from what you had concerns back then, albeit a long time ago, about Malcolm Turnbull?

FIFIELD: Well, in 2009 my issue was fundamentally one of policy. I could not, in good conscience, support an Emissions Trading Scheme before there was comprehensive agreement in the rest of the world. At that time, that was the position of the Leader. I couldn’t embrace that, so that is why I resigned from the front bench at that time.

VAN ONSELEN: And you got an assurance that that won’t change this time around? If you can assurance that that won’t be something that Malcolm Turnbull will look at, years down the track.

FIFIELD: Malcolm fully embraces the policy that we have. And I should make this point. That I think anyone who has served as a leader of the Party does become a better politician and a better Member of Parliament by virtue of that service as a leader, even if it wasn’t, as the incumbent might have liked at that time. And that is true of Malcolm. I certainly hope that I am a better Member of Parliament and a better politician than I was in 2009. And I am certain that Malcolm is.

VAN ONSELEN: Multiple sources in the party room have told me that last night the outgoing Prime Minister Tony Abbott was very strong in some of his rhetoric. Describing himself as having been cut down, wishing Malcolm Turnbull the best, but saying that, I wish you well but you won’t survive, survive where his words, if you faced what I faced, talking about white anting. He also brought Joe Hockey in on the mix. Do you accept those words?

FIFIELD: Well, look, I don’t comment on matters that occur in the Party Room. But just in relation to the general point in relation to things like leaks on occasion. I think when there are leaks in and around the Government, that tends to be more a symptom of an underlying problem rather than a cause of the problem. So, I just make that point in the broad. But look, it has been an extremely difficult time for Tony Abbott as an individual. We as a party, we as Members and Senators, have immense respect for him as a human being and he has given his all to the nation in the role of Prime Minister. He secured government for us and there were some good things that occurred under his leadership. So you are not going to hear anything other than positive comments about Tony Abbott as an individual. He has served the Party and the nation well.

VAN ONSELEN: What about Malcolm Turnbull’s comment though, as his media conference yesterday, he did say that he was dismayed, or words to that effect with the Government’s approach to the economic challenges of the nation. Joe Hockey was pretty pointed in his response when he did a media statement saying that Malcolm Turnbull had never come to him once to express his concerns in that theatre. Who’s right?

FIFIELD: Well, conversations between colleagues are matters for them. And what has happened in the Cabinet in terms of discussions about policy is a matter between them. But we have not crafted an economic narrative that conveys, successfully, to the Australian people, the plans that we have. So, that is an opportunity that we have to do that. And the decision that has been taken by my colleagues last night, ultimately, they represent electorates across the nation and they, in their decision, are reflecting the views that they have been receiving across the nation. We have heeded that. And we have the opportunity under Malcolm Turnbull as a new Prime Minister to talk with the Australian people about our plan for growth, our plan for jobs, our plan to reform the tax system.

VAN ONSELEN: Could the government have won the election, do you think, under Tony Abbott’s leadership?

FIFIELD: We as a Party Room, could not contemplate the risk of Bill Shorten winning the election. We are determined to ensure that Bill Shorten doesn’t. We are doing, and have done, by our decisions everything we can. Ultimately, we don’t want to see Bill Shorten become Prime Minister. We don’t want to see Bill Shorten bring back a carbon tax. We don’t want to see Bill Shorten dismantle our effective border protection policies. He has said he is on board, but the proof is in the pudding. And we know the last time Labor were in office, they promised in the lead up to the election that they wouldn’t dismantle our border protection policies, and they did. We just can’t afford for that to happen.

VAN ONSELEN: Right, Senator Mitch Fifield, we know it is a difficult set of circumstances to say the least, we really appreciate your time here on Newsday, thanks for joining us.

FIFIELD: Thanks Peter, good to be with you.