Prime Minister Scott Morrison has conceded Australians are “disgusted” by the leadership turmoil in Canberra, as leaked messages from a WhatsApp group reveal how damaging and personal the battle within the party became.
Mr Morrison is using his first weekend in the top job preparing for a trip to drought-stricken communities in western Queensland.
He argues that should be the focus of the government, after a battered and bruising week for the Liberal Party.
“There was a lot of change this week. I know people would’ve been pretty – miffed by it would’ve been an understatement,” he told the ABC’s Australia All Over program.
“I think a lot of people would’ve been absolutely disgusted by it.
“But we’re a great country. People are going to get back to where they have to have their heads, and where they should have their heads, and that’s where I’m going to get their heads.”
Messages and machinations
Mr Morrison’s comments came as some of the tactics ahead of Friday’s leadership ballot were revealed.
The ABC’s Insiders program has obtained a WhatsApp group chat thread between key moderate Liberals and new MPs, in a group named “Friends for Stability”, discussing how the vote may play out.
Frontbencher Paul Fletcher kicks off the discussion.
“Cormann rumoured to be putting some WA votes behind Julie Bishop in round 1,” he wrote to colleagues.
“Be aware that this is a ruse trying to get her ahead of Morrison so he drops out & his votes go to Dutton.
“Despite our hearts tugging us to Julie we need to vote with our heads for Scott in round one.”
The recipients of the message include both ministers and backbenchers, and Christopher Pyne replied to say he had told Julie Bishop “very respectfully”.
Mathias Cormann has denied to the ABC that he was employing such tactics to knock Ms Bishop out of the race.
The former deputy Liberal leader is yet to announce whether she will seek to retain a frontbench position, or if she will remain in Parliament at all.
The soul-searching over why the Liberals imploded during the week continues, as long-time party members argue the case for dumping Malcolm Turnbull has never been properly articulated.
“I don’t think there is an explanation,” Queensland Liberal National Senator Ian Macdonald told the ABC’s Weekend Breakfast.
“I … wasn’t a great mate of Tony Abbott’s, but I thought removing him was silly.
“Same with Turnbull, not a great mate of Malcolm’s. He’s OK.
“I don’t think the public like the idea of politicians getting rid of elected prime ministers. We should have learnt from the Gillard-Rudd-Gillard, or Rudd-Gillard-Rudd days.”
Federal Liberal President Nick Greiner has levelled some of the blame for the turmoil at the feet of former prime minister Mr Abbott.
“His behaviour has been, as I’ve often said, more focused internally than where his skills are best used,” Mr Greiner told Sky News.
“Tony is an excellent political salesman, a political warrior, he should’ve been spending his time, and I of course said this to him, much more on bringing down our political opponents rather than focussing on internal differences.
“I’m hopeful, and I take it from his remarks, that that will not happen in the future.”
As the Liberals continue to pick through the wreckage of their party, Labor is also struggling to make sense of what went on.
Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya said she could not understand why Ms Bishop was not picked by her party as leader.
“She would have been the most popular choice as Liberal leader if you asked the Australian people,” she said.
“But then again, Malcolm Turnbull was doing just fine.
“It is a bizarre week. We have seen a prime minister that continued to be popular with the Australian people torn down by the extreme right of the Liberal Party, who just relentlessly chased him down.”