Revelations that Julie Bishop’s chief of staff attended a key meeting of Turnbull backers the night before the leadership coup that brought down Tony Abbott has shaken trust within the party, a Liberal backbencher says.
The meeting took place in the home of Eden-Monaro MP, Dr Peter Hendy, and was attended by the Liberal Party’s Malcolm Turnbull, Wyatt Roy, Arthur Sinodinos, Mitch Fifield, Mal Brough, James McGrath and Scott Ryan.
It has been revealed that Ms Bishop’s long-standing chief of staff, Murray Hansen, was also present at the meeting.
Ms Bishop, who is the deputy of the Liberal Party, said she knew he was visiting Dr Hendy’s house, but believed it to be a casual drinks event rather than a strategy meeting on bringing down Mr Abbott.
When quizzed on her loyalty during question time on Thursday, she defended her actions.
“The role of deputy is to be the deputy to the Prime Minister,” she said.
“It is a separate role, elected separately. It is not part of a joint ticket and I have fulfilled my responsibilities and my duties as the deputy leader of the Liberal Party since 2007.”
Ms Bishop was also asked about the absence of multiple transcripts from the morning after the spill on her website.
She said their absence was consistent with the practice of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade “to remove from my transcripts as Foreign Minister, as they’ve done with previous Foreign Ministers, any portion of transcripts that relates to internal party politics”.
“In light of the allegation that I was seeking to hide something, I contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and asked that these transcripts be put on the Ministerial website,” she said.
“They have agreed with me to do that.”
Liberal senator Cory Bernardi said he would have expected Mr Murray to immediately report back to Ms Bishop what was discussed in the meeting.
“What we do know is that the only people in attendance at this supposed drinks function were those who were intimately involved in the coup, with the exception of course of Ms Bishop’s chief of staff who was an observer,” he told 7.30.
“Now, I can only say that had I known there were ringside tickets to the final plot to bring down the downfall of a prime minister, I would have attended.
“And immediately when I knew what was going on, I would have made efforts to contact the Prime Minister or a member of his staff to let them know what was about to transpire.
“That’s how I would have conducted myself and I think that would be a logical and loyal course of action for people to take.”
Bishop asked to explain delay in reporting plot to Abbott
Earlier on Thursday, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton called on Ms Bishop to explain Mr Hansen’s role.
“Obviously the deputy leader in the party owes a special duty of care and a special loyalty to the leader and I don’t even know if this is true, no doubt Julie Bishop will clarify the situation,” he told Radio 2GB.
Ms Bishop confirmed Mr Hansen attended the meeting, but said she did not learn about what was discussed until the next morning.
She said she informed the then-prime minister Mr Abbott as early as possible about the likelihood of a challenge.
“On the Monday morning I saw him at the earliest opportunity,” she told reporters at Parliament House.
Senator Bernardi has questioned why it took so long to tell Mr Abbott about the plot, and suggested it was unlikely Mr Hansen was there just to observe what was happening.
“Great lengths were gone to by the plotters to avoid letting anyone know about what was going on, so I find it unusual that they invited an outsider in, particularly a staff member, just to be an observer,” he said.
He said the revelations were making it more difficult for the Liberal Party to recover after the leadership change.
“The wounds, I won’t say they were healing, but certainly they were drying up a little bit,” he said.
“This has, quite frankly, ripped the scab off the wounds and opened up them again.
“There’s an old saying, ‘oh what a tangled web we weave when first we set out to deceive,’ and it seems that some of the deceptions and some of the stories that have been put out are unravelling and it’s just not helpful.”