Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has sensationally claimed he was deposed in a Liberal Party coup last year because his colleagues didn’t want him to win the next election.
In a frank interview with veteran BBC journalist Andrew Neil on Thursday night (Australian time), Mr Turnbull said the decision to replace him and make Scott Morrison prime minister left the Coalition in a weaker position.
Mr Neil appeared shocked as Mr Turnbull claimed that the Liberal Party’s concern “was not I would lose the election but rather that I would win it”.
“As I said at the time, it was essentially a form of madness that occurred, whipped up internally and also amplified by voices in the media,” he said.
Malcom Turnbull on why he was ousted as Australian Prime Minister. https://t.co/V7hlvBSpKr
— Andrew Neil (@afneil) March 7, 2019
Mr Turnbull was replaced as Liberal leader in a chaotic party spill in August 2018 that saw Mr Morrison installed as the sixth Australian prime minister in less than 11 years.
He said the leadership spill said more about the internal politics of the Liberal Party than of the electorate.
Mr Neil challenged Mr Turnbull on the claim, saying “that’s not correct is it?” and recalling that the government had trailed Labor in 40 consecutive polls.
“At the time of the coup in August we were level-pegging on the public polls with the Opposition and we were four points ahead on the polling in marginal seats, so the government was absolutely in a competitive, winnable position,” the former member for Wentworth responded.
“We had essentially drawn even, and in our own polling in the marginal seats, which is obviously the only ones that matter, you know, in terms of determining government, we were ahead,” he added.
Mr Turnbull said Mr Morrison’s Coalition could still retain government in the May federal election, but its position was much less favourable under Mr Morrison.
“Normally what you do when you replace a leader, you replace the unpopular person whose fate is sealed with somebody who is much more popular and gives you a chance of winning. That was not what happened in August,” he said.
When asked if Mr Morrison was less popular than his predecessor, Mr Turnbull said: “The party, on any of the objective indications, is in a worse position than it was in August. You can’t deny that, that’s a fact.”
Mr Turnbull’s predictions come a week after prominent Liberals Christopher Pyne and Steve Ciobo announced they would not contest the next election, following former foreign minister Julie Bishop’s announcement she planned to resign.
Similar announcements are expected from current foreign minister Marise Payne and former small business minister Craig Laundy.
Despite his divisive comments, Mr Turnbull maintained he remained a Liberal, but had retired from politics.
“I’m always interested in politics but I won’t be engaging in the partisan, political battle,” he said.