Senior government minister Christopher Pyne has reopened the wounds of Malcolm Turnbull’s knifing with an extraordinarily frank assessment of politics in Canberra.
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, the Defence Minister blamed the push to remove Mr Turnbull on pressure from a “shouty” media.
“I felt that the constant social media, shouty segment of the press that keeps everybody on edge in this building all the time — and might actually not reflect at all the way the public think — had won, and that sensible people had bowed to that irrational pressure,” Mr Pyne said.
He said that after a decade of prime ministers frequently being deposed, the problem of politicians acting recklessly in response to polls and bad media had become “entrenched” and he “just can’t see it changing”.
Mr Pyne also clarified his own role in backing Scott Morrison, and not Julie Bishop, to take on Peter Dutton in the vote to become Mr Turnbull’s successor.
Many Australians were shocked when Ms Bishop drew just 11 votes from her colleagues in the spill, despite being the public’s preferred Liberal leader.
“My assessment was that Peter Dutton would be electorally unpopular, except for probably in Queensland, and that Scott Morrison was most likely to win if the moderates supported him, and that Julie would obviously be the best moderate, but that she wouldn’t win,” Mr Pyne explained.
“So if the moderates decided to support Julie as a group, Peter Dutton would be the leader and we would be behind the eight ball electorally.
“So it was important that we supported Scott because he had numbers of his own that he could bring to that contest that would mean that we’d have the best chance possible of winning the election.”
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Despite opposing Mr Dutton’s leadership ambitions, Mr Pyne described him as a “good friend” and “very capable cabinet minister”.
Mr Pyne was on Insiders yesterday, where he spoke about asylum seeker policy and the government’s response to the banking royal commission.
He ruled out scheduling more sitting days of parliament before the election to deal with the commission’s findings, saying the government would be “sensible and methodical”.
“No we won’t be doing that, and we won’t be doing it for one simple reason,” he said.
“To change the laws around financial services and respond to the banking royal commission in the way that we wish to will take about 40 different pieces of legislation. So trying to do that in a rushed job to fulfil a political stunt that the Labor Party is trying to pull is no way to govern.
“It will take time to draft those 40 pieces of legislation and to get them right.”
Delaying legislation until after the election ensures nothing will be passed until at least June.
Host Barrie Cassidy asked Mr Pyne about Mr Dutton’s claim that the asylum seeker bill before parliament would result in “all of the 1000 people on Manus and Nauru” coming to Australia.
“How is that? How would almost all of them come to Australia simply because of ill health?” Cassidy asked.
“Because two doctors in Australia, maybe Bob Brown and Richard Di Natale, could sign a certificate saying that they think they’re suffering from mental health issues and they need to come to Australia,” he replied.
“But you know that’s not true. You know that’s not true. The two doctors do not determine this,” Cassidy shot back.
“They can put up the name but the minister can reject that. Then it goes to a full advisory panel. Appointed, by the way, by the government, by Border Force.”
“And then it goes right through the appeal process, back into the administrative appeal tribunal, the Federal Court. This is exactly the model Labor set up last time they were in power,” Mr Pyne said.
He said the advice from security agencies was that the bill would “weaken our border protection laws” and lead to more people coming to Australia.
“Can you explain to me how it is that it’s got to the point where almost all of them (the asylum seekers) are ill?” Cassidy asked.
“The point is, because of this government’s policies, we’ve stopped the boats,” Mr Pyne said.
“That’s not an answer,” Cassidy responded.
This morning the government’s leader in the Senate, Mathias Cormann, said there would be “no compromise” on the asylum seeker bill.
“Bill Shorten, on having received the security briefing, should step back from his reckless decision before Christmas to weaken our border protection policies,” Mr Cormann said.
Labor is scheduled to have a caucus meeting at 6pm this evening to settle on its position.