ABC 7.30 Programme
LEIGH SALES: We with me now from Canberra is one of the three MPs touted as a potential successor for Tony Abbott, the Minister for Social Services, Scott Morrison. Minister, thank you for joining us.
MINISTER MORRISON: G’day, Leigh.
LEIGH SALES: Is Tony Abbott on borrowed time?
MINISTER MORRISON: No, I don’t believe he is. I think what the Government is focused on doing is dealing with the issues that I think Tony set out today in his speech, and let me just make very clear what they were: grow the economy, keep Australians safe, keep the focus on families and dealing with their cost-of-living issues, ensuring they can work and to ensure that we’re dealing with the challenges facing small business. Now I thought that was a very good outset today – outline of the priorities that the Government is really focusing its mind on.
LEIGH SALES: Yet Minister that is basically the same list of priorities that you’ve been outlining for your entire time in government and indeed what you were promising before you were elected. How is it even possible that just 18 months into office we can be even sitting here having this conversation? How have things become so bad for Tony Abbott so quickly?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well it’s an interesting question, because if you go back over the last almost 18 months – and let’s not forget, it was less than 18 months ago that the boats were still coming and the debt and deficit kept racking up under the previous government and all of those things were still happening just less than 18 months ago. There have been significant achievements…
LEIGH SALES: So what’s gone wrong?
MINISTER MORRISON: In 2014 we were creating jobs at the rate of 500 – more than 500 a day and that’s three times what it was the year before. Now my point is…
LEIGH SALES: But Minister, then there’s a fundamental disconnect here, isn’t there?
MINISTER MORRISON: Leigh, if I could just finish the answer. The point here is there have been significant achievements in that period of time from a policy perspective – the carbon tax is gone, mining tax is gone…
LEIGH SALES: But you’re not getting credit for that and why?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well, what we need to focus on is managing that politics, but we cannot deny and people can’t deny that there haven’t been significant achievements in that period of time and the task of reform is a difficult one, as all governments find.
LEIGH SALES: But Minister, haven’t you put your finger right there – you’ve put your finger right there on the very problem, which is that members of your team are doing their jobs, they’re getting things done that you said you would and yet the electorate is not happy with your performance. What’s going on there?
MINISTER MORRISON: What matters though, Leigh, is getting things done and people need to ask themselves the question: what’s more important: the politics or the policy and the outcomes that Australians need? We’re very focused on the outcomes that Australians need to achieve, whether it’s in my area with – particularly with families, who want to go back to work when they’ve had children, but find the costs of childcare so difficult to deal with that they end up just working to pay for childcare…
LEIGH SALES: Well Minister, let me ask you…
MINISTER MORRISON: Now that’s a problem that they want us to solve and that’s one I’m focused on solving, as is the Prime Minister.
LEIGH SALES: Minister, let me ask you a few simple, direct questions. Have you had discussions with Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop or their proxies regarding a possible new leadership team?
MINISTER MORRISON: No.
LEIGH SALES: Do you believe that those discussions are under way between Julie Bishop and Malcolm Turnbull?
MINISTER MORRISON: I have no idea.
LEIGH SALES: Have you told Tony Abbott that he would have your support in any leadership spill?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well, of course. I mean, that issue hasn’t come up, but, of course, he knows that.
LEIGH SALES: Well has Mr Abbott sought any assurance from you on that matter?
MINISTER MORRISON: No.
LEIGH SALES: Would you challenge Tony Abbott for the leadership?
MINISTER MORRISON: No.
LEIGH SALES: If a colleague brought on a spill and you were drafted, would you run?
MINISTER MORRISON: Sorry?
LEIGH SALES: If a colleague brought on a spill and you were drafted by your colleagues, would you agree to run?
MINISTER MORRISON: I’ve just said that I wouldn’t challenge the leader.
LEIGH SALES: Well there’s a difference between challenging and being drafted.
MINISTER MORRISON: Well, you explain it to me.
LEIGH SALES: I don’t want to waste time doing that, but I think most people that follow politics know there’s a difference.
MINISTER MORRISON: I think people are getting my position very clear, Leigh, and we could play these games for most of the evening…
LEIGH SALES: OK.
MINISTER MORRISON: What I’m telling you is that the Prime Minister has my support and I’ve outlined that in any number of ways and what I’m telling you is the Government and the Prime Minister has set out what we’re focusing on for Australian families and for Australian small businesses and others are focusing on these matters.
LEIGH SALES: The Prime Minister said in his speech today that he was absolutely determined to remain in the role and that it’s the people that hire and the people that fire. Some might say that that’s a pretty inflammatory message to send to your colleagues when they’re deciding whether or not to keep you against the backdrop of your own horrendous personal approval rating.
MINISTER MORRISON: Well the benchmark that is set when a prime minister has gone to an election and been elected I think is a very high one for the party room to obviously take into account and I think that’s…
LEIGH SALES: It’s not unprecedented.
MINISTER MORRISON: What I’m saying is I think that’s the point the Prime Minister was making today. The Australian people did elect the Liberal/National Coalition at the last election, but they did so with Tony Abbott as our leader and I think that is something that no party room takes lightly.
LEIGH SALES: But is it not also fair that any party room should be able to make a decision if they think that their leader is not the right person to take them forwards to change that?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well that’s the Westminster system you’ve just outlined. We’re not a presidential democracy here, we’re a parliamentary democracy and that’s an obvious statement of fact. But what I think the Prime Minister was saying today is there is something very special about a leader of the Opposition who has been elected into the position of Prime Minister by virtue of being the leader, and I think that’s a very serious matter for party rooms within their own decision-making powers to take into account.
LEIGH SALES: Is there not a degree of selfishness in the Prime Minister saying that he will not go unless voted out? That’s basically saying, “I would rather see Australia return to a Labor government and I’d rather see my colleagues lose seat than stand aside voluntarily.”
MINISTER MORRISON: Well, Leigh, that was a very loaded question with a whole bunch of assumptions in it about what’s in the Prime Minister’s head and I don’t think that’s a reasonable way to frame the issue. What the Prime Minister said today was that he has a clear plan, supported by his government, to get the problems that we inherited from the former government, the mountain of the debt and everything else, that we have to deal with and he’s got a plan to deal with that and that’s what we need to focus on. Now, that’s what he said today and he’s not going to be distracted from that and the Government shouldn’t be distracted from that because that’s what we were elected to do. We were elected to fix the problems that Labor created. Now I think there may be a misapprehension out there that the problems that Labor left behind can be fixed in 18 months. Well that’s folly. They can’t be fixed in 18 months. They will take far longer to fix and the problems were far deeper than I think any of us really appreciated at the time of the election. And so we need to reform, but those reforms must be consistent with the priorities I think of the Australian people and that was a big reason behind the PPL decision today. PPL was something we took to two elections, but the priority has to be on child care and that’s a core of our policy priorities.
LEIGH SALES: About the PPL, the Productivity Commission has been saying for a long time it would be ineffective. The business community’s criticised it for years. The Prime Minister’s colleagues have been complaining about it for years. How has it taken so long for Tony Abbott to get the message?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well that would seem everybody would be welcoming the decision that was taken today, Leigh, and that means we’ve made a good step forward on the priorities of where the families package needs to focus and that is on child care…
LEIGH SALES: How did you take so long to get the message, though?
MINISTER MORRISON: Well, we took a policy to the election and it was clearly-presented. And it was clearly opposed by the Labor Party, and to see their response today, for them to slag and bag it, frankly, for all that period of time and then cry crocodile tears the second that it’s withdrawn I think is just quite disingenuous.
LEIGH SALES: I’m out of time, unfortunately, Minister Morrison, but thank you very much for joining us this evening.
MINISTER MORRISON: Thanks very much, Leigh.