Despite being his party’s new leader, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has again refused to answer for why his party dumped Malcolm Turnbull.
Mr Morrison persisted with the “I didn’t seek a change” line in his first appearance as leader on the ABC’s 7.30 program on Tuesday night.
“Well, ah, well, I was not the one who sought to change it,” he told host Leigh Sales.
“But you’re at the head of the government now and Australians need an explanation,” Ms Sales replied.
Voters are “disappointed” with the last 10 years of leadership instability, he said.
“They’re puzzled,” Ms Sales corrected him.
“And, well, they can be. But what matters to them now is where do we go from here,” he said.
But Australians find it all “perplexing” and want answers”, she said.
Mr Morrison would not budge. “Well, the party room, they decide who the leader of the Liberal Party should be. They had formed a view that they no longer supported the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull. And they voted on that, and that was declared vacant and in that context I put my hand forward to take us forward – my hand up to take us forward.”
— abc730 (@abc730) September 11, 2018
But what was wrong with Mr Turnbull’s leadership?
“Well, I didn’t oppose it.”
Ms Sales tried a different tack. “What is the difference between the Morrison government and the Turnbull government?”
Little it seems.
“Well, there’s a continuity, there’s no doubt about that. There’s an absolute continuity.”
Frustrated, Ms Sales challenged Mr Morrison on whether he was being candid with voters.
“When placed in command, take charge. How’s that for candid? That’s what I’m saying and that’s what I’m doing.”
Ever since he took the top job, Mr Morrison has deflected responsibility for the surprise leadership change onto those in his party who instigated it. He gave similar non-answers to Labor at question time on Monday and Tuesday.
So Ms Sales tried for answers on policy.
Would the Prime Minister support gender quotas? – No.
Had he spoken to any of the accused bullies in the party? – No.
Did he believe climate change was the single greatest threat to the Pacific region?
“Well, that is what we signed up to …”
So why was climate policy not his biggest priority?
“Because we’ve already made our commitments to the targets,” he replied.
— abc730 (@abc730) September 11, 2018
But what was his government’s climate policy?
“Well, we’re reducing emissions by 26 per cent. That’s out to 2030.”
In fact, that was the emissions target set by Malcolm Turnbull under the National Energy Guarantee. The Morrison government dumped that policy, although the government remains a signatory to the Paris Agreement, an international treaty, which promised a cut of between 26 and 28 per cent by 2030.
“The emissions reduction fund has been a key component,” Mr Morrison said, when asked for specific carbon reduction measures.
But, as Ms Sales pointed out, that the fund was not topped up in the last budget, meaning it will run out of money.
“Well, that’s how we’re meeting our 2020 target,” he replied. “[We’ll] be bringing forward further measures in this area.”
Will emissions reduction have anything to do with energy policy?
“Well, I’ve separated” them,” Mr Morrison said.
Ms Sales then asked for an example of impinged religious freedoms to explain Mr Morrison’s promised push for greater protections.
The Prime Minister refused.
“That’s actually not the point, Leigh. What the point is, is that Australians want to be sure that in the future that those things won’t be infringed upon.”
The interview then turned to the “war of words”, as Ms Sales put it, between Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and one of his main accusers, former Border Force boss Roman Quaedvlieg.
Mr Dutton took the extraordinary step on Tuesday of attacking Mr Quaedvlieg, under parliamentary privilege and on public television, as “discredited and disgraced” and accused him of “grooming” his adult partner.
Mr Quaedvlieg was dismissed from Border Force for having a relationship with a woman employed by the agency.
Mr Morrison appeared to support this attack, saying Mr Quaedvlieg’s claims were “palpably false”.
Mr Quaedvlieg responded on Twitter, saying he had written to the Speaker of Parliament, Tony Smith, in protest.
The attacks were a response to evidence given by the ex-Border Force boss to a Senate inquiry that Mr Dutton’s staffer asked him for advice on how to get an Italian au pair employed by a former police colleague of Mr Dutton out of immigration detention; and that Mr Dutton had asked him to find jobs for two former police colleagues at the Border Force agency.
Given the non-answers, Labor may keep pushing Mr Morrison on the ‘why’ question at Wednesday’s question time.