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Malcolm Turnbull threatened early election at height of coup

Malcolm Turnbull resigned from the top job in August last year. Photo: Getty
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Malcolm Turnbull threatened to call an early election at the height of the leadership crisis and had his security and official car on standby to race him to the Governor-General’s residence Yarralumla. 

The extraordinary revelations are contained in a new bookPlots and Prayers by author and columnist Niki Savva.

The Attorney-General, Christian Porter, has revealed in the new account that he feared the Prime Minister would spark a constitutional crisis.

“Somehow or other, I ended up being the Commonwealth Attorney-General, and I’m facing down a potential constitutional crisis,’’ Mr Porter said.

“Ultimately, one that got to DEFCON 4, and then all the army stood down.”

According to Plots and Prayers, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told Mr Porter, after Mr Turnbull spilled the leadership without telling his leadership group: “This is f***ing crazy.”

Former Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne is also quoted in the book confirming that Mr Turnbull was prepared to call an election even after he announced that he would not put his hand up for the leadership if the second spill motion was carried. 

Mr Pyne told Ms Savva the prime minister’s official car, “C1”, was on standby in case he decided to call a snap election. 

“There was a lot of nonsense going on,” Mr Pyne told Ms Savva. “He wanted to keep all his options open.”

The fresh revelations follow The Australian‘s report on Thursday that Mr Turnbull threatened to drag the Governor-General into the affair, suggesting he would not to commission Peter Dutton­ as prime minister over concerns he was ineligible to sit in Parliament.

That led to a face-to-face clash between the Prime Minister and his Attorney-General. 

Dutton’s eligibility question

The revelations prompted Mr Dutton to confirm on Thursday that he had quietly relinquished any financial interest in a family trust linked to the claims he is ineligible to sit in Parliament, despite insisting he was never in breach of the Constitution.

The Home Affairs Minister’s office confirmed to The New Daily on Thursday night that he had removed himself from the trust before the May election. 

Peter Dutton
Mr Dutton removed himself from the trust at the centre of the ineligibility claims. Photo: AAP

The decision means the High Court can never be asked to determine whether he was ineligible to sit in the last Parliament because he was elected to the current one without a cloud over his head. 

A spokeswoman for Mr Dutton said he made the decision to “silence those who are politically motivated,” not because he believed he was ineligible to sit. 

“The Minister has received two unambiguous legal opinions from leading barristers specialising in constitutional law, including former Solicitor-General David Bennett AC QC, which advised he was not in breach of section 44,” she said.

“These legal opinions are supported by the Solicitor-General who concluded in his legal advice that in his opinion the better view was that the Minister was not in breach of section 44.  

“Nonetheless, to silence those who are politically motivated and continue to raise this; prior to the Minister’s nomination at the May election, he formerly renounced any interest in the trust in question.”

Earlier, Malcolm Turnbull had raised fresh questions over the Home Affairs Minister’s eligibility, confirming he believed the Governor General may have been forced to intervene if he had won the leadership ballot.

The former prime minister also responded to the claims of a showdown with Mr Porter over Mr Dutton’s eligibility at the height of August’s leadership drama.

Mr Turnbull suggested Mr Porter’s stance was “nonsense”, insisting that seeking legal advice on the Section 44 issue was the only responsible course of action. 

“The discretion to swear in a person as prime minister is vested in the Governor General,” he said.

“The proposition advanced by Mr Porter that it is none of the GG’s business whether the would be PM is constitutionally eligible is nonsense. The GG is not a constitutional cypher.

“During the week of 24 August 2018 there was advice from leading constitutional lawyer Bret Walker that Dutton was ineligible to sit in the Parliament and thus ineligible to be a Minister, let alone Prime Minister. I ensured we sought the advice of the Solicitor General,” Mr Turnbull said.

“The SG’s advice was delivered on the morning of Friday 24th and duly published. His advice was that “the better view” was that Dutton was eligible but it was “impossible to state that position with certainty” and there was “some risk” the High Court would rule he was ineligible

“I took the responsible course of action, obtained the necessary advice, published it and the Party Room was informed when it made its decision to elect Mr Morrison, rather than Mr Dutton, as leader.” 

Mr Dutton praised the Attorney General’s courage in standing up to the Malcolm Turnbull. 

“Christian Porter is a person of great integrity and decency,” he said. 

“He looked at what needed to be done as the Attorney-General of our country and he saw inappropriate behaviour taking place he called it out, he stood up to it and you’re right it was a gutsy move and I think he deserves full credit for it.”

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