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Cormann returns fire after Turnbull accuses him over leadership coup

The Guardian logo The Guardian 4 days ago Amy Remeikis

Video provided by Nine News

Mathias Cormann, one of the men Malcolm Turnbull accused of “blowing up” his government, has conceded the Coalition had worked itself to a more competitive position before the leadership spill.

But the finance minister said on Friday the improvement had come before a revolt against the national energy guarantee by conservative MPs led to a party room split and leadership tensions.

Malcolm Turnbull pointed the finger for the leadership coup at four main figures during his solo Q&A appearance on the ABC overnight: Peter Dutton, Tony Abbott, Greg Hunt and Cormann.

Turnbull also made deliberate mention of internal polling which he said showed the Coalition was on track for an electoral recovery in key marginal seats and was once again competitive with Labor on a two-party-preferred basis.

Cormann said he was unaware of the polling Turnbull had referred to but told Sky News the Coalition had seen improvements before the coup.

“There’s no question, in my mind, the government had worked very well as a team and that we had got ourselves back into a more competitive position than we had been,” Cormann said.

“But that was before the 10 days [of leadership instability]. We clearly had some policy issues in relation to the national energy guarantee to work through. My expectation was that would happen ... but in the end that was not the way things played out.”

Cormann, who had been a key lieutenant for Turnbull, until he switched his support to Peter Dutton in the Queensland MP’s ill-fated bid for the leadership, instead blamed Turnbull for the August events.

Malcolm Turnbull, left, and Mathias Cormann. © AP Malcolm Turnbull, left, and Mathias Cormann.

He said the former prime minister’s decision to call for a “surprise” leadership ballot on 21 August was the catalyst that ended his leadership because it revealed that almost half the party room supported Dutton. This “crystallised a level of division in the Liberal party room that needed to be resolved”.

“I voted for Malcolm on that Tuesday … but it was clear given the result that day that his position had become irretrievable and that it was in the interests of the country, the government, and the Liberal party for the issue of the leadership of the Liberal party to be resolved with more certainty before we left that week,” he said.

“Going into the break without the issue resolved would have created unbelievable instability and chaos and dysfunction … I wish what had happened on Tuesday didn’t happen.”

Cormann also admitted he had not spoken to Turnbull since the leadership coup, other than a few WhatsApp exchanges.

While the government has spent the past two and a half months attempting to move on from the leadership change – including Morrison yelling “get over it” to Labor following repeated questioning in September – Turnbull said those responsible for the leadership change needed to explain themselves.

“I think those people who are responsible for taking a successful, competitive government and literally blowing it up need to have an explanation,” he said on Thursday night.

“But it’s not one that I can provide, because I cannot. I can’t give an explanation other than to say, as far as I could see, it was madness.

“But, clearly, that’s pretty inadequate.”

Mathias Cormann. © AP Mathias Cormann.

Christopher Pyne, who remains a Turnbull ally, backed his “mate’s” assertion that those who engineered the coup needed to take responsibility for their actions.

“They have to be responsible for their actions. They made a decision about not supporting Malcolm and they have to be responsible for that,” he told the Nine network.

“... I supported Malcolm.”

Pyne also insisted the government had moved on from the saga but made a point of saying he remained in contact with his former leader.

“I did speak to Malcolm afterwards and I think he did a great job,” Pyne said of Turnbull’s Q&A appearance.

Asked why, Pyne said: “Because he’s a friend of mine. I asked him how it went. We texted each other and he’s entitled to have his views about things.”

Turnbull will deliver a speech at the Australian and New South Wales bar associations’ national conference in Sydney on 16 November.

Pictures: Liberal leadership crisis: days of drama

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