A little while ago I met with the prime minister and advised him that I would be challenging him for the leadership of the Liberal Party, and I asked him to arrange a meeting of the party room to enable a leadership ballot to be held.
Of course, I’ve also resigned as communications minister.
Tony Abbott appointed Turnbull as his communications spokesperson in 2010, charging him to “demolish the government” on the issue of the NBN. He was never able to do that in opposition but once in power as the actual communication minister he was able to transform the NBN by adopting a measure of high speed broadband which will see less than a quarter of those with a fibre to the node connection being able to access speeds of 100Mbps.
Now this is not a decision that anyone could take lightly. I have consulted with many, many colleagues, many Australians, many of our supporters in every walk of life.
This course of action has been urged on me by many people over a long period of time. It is clear enough that the government is not successful in providing the economic leadership that we need. It is not the fault of individual ministers.
It may not have been the fault of any one minister, but the treasurer, Joe Hockey, certainly wore a lot of the blame and was replaced by Scott Morrison. Importantly the run of 30 Newspolls losses in a row for Tony Abbot began in the run up to Hockey’s first budget in 2014.
Ultimately, the prime minister has not been capable of providing the economic leadership our nation needs. He has not been capable of providing the economic confidence that business needs.
Economic confidence was a big issue for Turnbull. And on this score he certainly can claim to have achieved success. The latest NAB Monthly Business Survey found that business conditions index moved three points higher to +21 index points, which is a record high since the monthly survey commenced in March 1997.
And certainly no one can accuse the Turnbull government of not being pro-business.
That confidence could perhaps be said to have led to more jobs. At the time he removed Abbott, annual employment growth was running at 2.4% and rising. The growth would drop off severely throughout 2016, before picking up very strongly last year. Right now annual employment growth is 3.3%, but the average throughout Turnbull’s time as prime minister is 2.1%.
Is that growth due to business confidence?
Well, nearly 70% of the new jobs since August 2015 have come from the construction, education and healthcare industries – which is rather sizeable given they only employ 31% of all workers. Healthcare and education hardly have anything to do with business confidence given they are dominated by the public sector, and the big growth in construction has been due to large infrastructure projects – and much of that is due to Hockey’s asset recycling scheme whereby state governments sold public assets in order to get funding from the federal governments to build new infrastructure.
Now, we are living as Australians in the most exciting time. The big economic changes that we’re living through here and around the world offer enormous challenges and enormous opportunities. And we need a different style of leadership.
Just what was so exciting about September 2015 is a bit unexplained. Certainly for Malcolm Turnbull, becoming prime minister meant it was very exciting for him.
We need a style of leadership that explains those challenges and opportunities … and how to seize the opportunities. A style of leadership that respects the people’s intelligence, that explains these complex issues and then sets out the course of action we believe we should take and makes a case for it.
We need advocacy, not slogans. We need to respect the intelligence of the Australian people.
Of course one man’s slogan is another man’s advocacy. Already in this speech Turnbull was trying out his first slogan – that of it being the most exciting time to be an Australian. This evolved into the need to be “innovative and agile”.
By the 2016 election, slogans were back in vogue as we become very much used to hearing “jobs and growth”, and Turnbull took to labeling Bill Shorten, Billion Dollar Bill.
At the end of 2016, Turnbull was arguing in a very Abbott-esque way that “if you vote Labor at the next election and Labor wins, you will pay more for electricity”.
Indeed, energy policy and sloganeering has come very easily for the prime minister. In September and October 2017 he could scarce talk of energy policy without describing the ALP’s policy being a combination of “ideology and idiocy”. And he also has decided that the best way to respect the intelligence of the Australian people is to explain time and again that the “wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine all the time.”
He also referred to the ALP’s proposal to wind back negative gearing as a “housing tax” and that it was “a big sledgehammer they are taking to the property market” that would “devalue every home, every property, in Australia”. Ahh yes, so much respect for our intelligence.
Now if we continue with Mr Abbott as prime minister, it is clear enough what will happen. He will cease to be prime minister and he’ll be succeeded by Mr Shorten.
You can’t fact check a what-if, but there are very few outside of Tony Abbott’s inner circle who disagree with this view – and certainly at the time a majority of the Liberal party did so.
You only have to see the catastrophically reckless approach of Mr Shorten to the China-Australia free-trade agreement, surely one of the most important foundations of our prosperity, to know he is utterly unfit to be prime minister of this country and so he will be if we do not make a change.
The China free trade agreement is an excellent example of how treating Australians with intelligence and not using slogans gets quickly brushed aside.
The economic benefits of free trade agreements are almost always overblown, and the economic modelling for the China free trade agreement used out of date information, but no matter, any free trade agreement is seen as an ultimate good by Turnbull as much as was the case under Abbott.
The one thing that is clear about our current situation is the trajectory. We have lost 30 Newspolls in a row. It is clear that the people have made up their mind about Mr Abbott’s leadership.
Now we get to it. Many leaders make statements that come back to bite them – Rudd’s line about climate change being the “great moral challenge”, Gillard’s about no carbon tax, Abbott’s about no cuts to education, health, the ABC, SBS and no change to pensions. At least those were based around policy. Turnbull in a fit of misguided hubris decided to make polling the centrality of his reasoning for challenging Abbott.
The 30 Newspolls that Abbott lost stretched from just prior to the 2014 budget – a time where Christopher Pyne was still able to suggest that voters would be “glad” about the first Hockey budget.
They weren’t, and from May 2014 to September 2015, Abbott lost 30 straight Newspolls – averaging a two party-preferred vote of 46.8%.
By contrast with Abbott’s 16 months of losing polls, Turnbull’s losing streak has been going since the end of September 2016, is now in its 19th month, and has seen the Liberal party average a two-party preferred poll of 46.9% .
If voters had made up their mind about Tony Abbott, it would seem they have given us an extra three months to confirm their views of Malcolm Turnbull.
Of course Newspoll is but one poll, and the Essential Media poll was well ahead of the curve. The Liberal party has now lost 77 consecutive Essential Media polls – the streak beginning July 2016.
Now what we also need to remember, and this is a critical thing, is that our party, the Liberal party, has the right values. We have a hugely talented team here in the parliament.
That huge talent was needed, because within three months Turnbull would lose his first two ministers – Jamie Briggs and Mal Brough both resigned in December. Three months later Stuart Robert would resign over a breach of ministerial standards, and in January last year Sussan Ley resigned after questions about her travel expenses.
Our values of free enterprise, of individual initiative, of freedom, this is what you need to be a successful, agile economy in 2015.
The value of freedom now includes a proposal to jail journalists for possessing classified information, and where an ATO whistleblower has had his house raided by the AFP, and where offices of the AWU were also raided as part of an investigation conducted by the Registered Organisations Commission, the news of which was leaked by an adviser in employment minister, Michaelia Cash’s, office.
And as for free enterprise, so long as you are not an energy company choosing to make a business decision about an ageing coal-fired power station, it’s all good.
What we have not succeeded in doing is translating those values into the policies and the ideas that will excite the Australian people and encourage them to believe and understand that we have a vision for their future.
We also need a new style of leadership in the way we deal with others whether it is our fellow members of parliament, whether it is the Australian people. We need to restore traditional cabinet government. There must be an end to policy on the run and captain’s calls.
On this score, Turnbull has certainly been less guilty of captain’s calls as was Abbott. But he has been rather good at making statements which sound like government policy only to back away from them soon after – such as a proposal in early 2016 to allow income tax to be collected by the states, which was quickly knocked on the head by premiers.
As for the cabinet government. Certainly ministers are given a greater free hand – but this is as much a reflection of Turnbull’s lack of power than his system of governance. That Peter Dutton feels free to talk on any issue he desires without any risk of rebuttal by the prime minister – such as on the issue of South African farmers – is not really reflective of traditional cabinet.
We need to be truly consultative with colleagues, members of parliament, senators and the wider public. We need an open government, an open government that recognises that there is an enormous sum of wisdom both within our colleagues in this building and, of course, further afield.
Well, he did consult with all voters on the issue of marriage equality – the postal survey which produced largely the same result as all the polling on the issue had recorded, but with the added bonus of a few months of homophobic abuse.
It is interesting to hear Turnbull argue that we need an open government. This from the man who has led a government that has fought handing over documents relating to the AWU raids, and the release of documents relating to boat turn backs, and which has seen the Northern Australian Infrastructure Fund refuse to release of documents relating to discussion of a $900m loan to Adani due to reasons such as “cyber bulling”.
His government was apparently so in need of being open that his attorney general, George Brandis, did all he could to prevent the release of his diary.
But above all we have to remember that we have a great example of good cabinet government. John Howard’s government most of us served in, and yet few would say that the cabinet government of Mr Abbott bears any similarity to the style of Mr Howard. So that’s what we need to go back to.
Finally, let me say something about Canning. Now this is an important byelection and I recognise dealing with this issue in the week before the byelection is far from ideal. But regrettably, there are few occasions that are entirely ideal for tough calls and tough decisions like this. The alternative if we were to wait and this issue, these problems were to roll on and on and on, is we will get no clear air
The fact is we are maybe 10 months, 11 months away from the next election. Every month lost is a month of lost opportunities. We have to make a change for our country’s sake, for the government’s sake, for the party’s sake. From a practical point of view a change of leadership would improve our prospects in Canning, although I’m very confident with the outstanding candidate we have that we will be successful.
The Canning byelection was held on 19 September due to the death of the sitting member, Don Randall. In the run up to the election, the polling showed the very safe Liberal seat was likely to see a big swing against it polling around 52% – though the candidate Andrew Hastie was still expected to win. Turnbull took over the prime ministership four days before the byelection and Hastie won with 55.3% of the vote.
We are probably more than 10 months away from an election now – unless events take a turn for Turnbull’s worse. He would be in no hurry to go to an election he is likely to lose.
Please, you’ll understand that I now have to go and speak to my colleagues. I trust I’ve explained the reasons why I am standing for the leadership of the Liberal party. Motivated by a commitment to serve the Australian people to ensure that our Liberal values continue to be translated into good government, sound policies, economic confidence, creating the jobs and the prosperity of the future.
Remember this, the only way, the only way we can ensure that we remain a high wage, generous social welfare net, first world society is if we have outstanding economic leadership, if we have strong business confidence. That is what we in the Liberal party are bound to deliver and it’s what I am committed to deliver if the party room gives me their support as leader of the party.
“High wage”? Well, yes, we are in an international sense. But high wages would not be something the prime minister would be wishing to talk up at the moment. When he took over in 2015, private sector wages were growing at a very low annual rate of 2.1%, now they are growing at an even lower 1.9%.
Also in that period, household income per capita has fallen in real terms from $12,110 to $11,943.
And generous social welfare net? Clearly one not generous enough to prevent 7,000 asylum seekers possibly losing income support, or where unemployed who turn down a “suitable job” – which potentially could be well below their level of expertise – would lose four weeks’ worth of payments. It is a policy which is the hallmark of all welfare polices under Turnbull – policy that demonises those on welfare and which solves no problem. In 2015-16 for example, just 589 of the 880,606 jobseekers were penalised for failing to accept a suitable job.
It is much like the robo-debt measures that has seen Centrelink have to wipe or change one in six of the 165,000 debt noticed it issued in the first 14 months of the program.
But yes, business confidence is high.
Thank you very much.