PRIME MINISTER: Before we get into the events of this evening, can I just say again that we continue to stand with all of those in Queensland as while we’re here, they continue to deal with heartbreaking conditions and fire. We maintain a close watch in what is occurring there and we continue to provide them with every assistance possible. The Deputy Prime Minister toured the region, as you know, on the weekend and he’s been able to update me today after my return from the G20 in Argentina. We’ll continue to take those reports.
But to the events of this evening. Australians have the very reasonable expectation that when they elect a government, when they elect a Prime Minister, then they should be the ones that determine if that Prime Minister is to not continue in that office. Tonight our Party made an historic decision, it is the biggest change to how our Party deals with these issues, in 74 years. We understand, our entire Party, the frustration and the disappointment that Australians have felt when governments and prime ministers that they have elected under their authority, under their power, has been taken from them with the actions of politicians here in Canberra. We’ve seen it on both sides of politics and the Liberal Party has done it also as you all know. We understand that frustration, we understand that disappointment, we acknowledgment it and we take responsibility for it.
Tonight the Liberal Party in acknowledging this, has made a decision. That decision is that an elected Liberal Party leader who goes to the election, wins that election and becomes Prime Minister, they will remain Prime Minister for that full parliamentary term. They will not be able to be removed from that office. The only safeguard that is put in place is the very high bar of a special majority; that for that rule to be changed, it would require a two thirds majority of the parliamentary Party. Now in my experience around this place, such a majority is rarely if ever achieved when it comes to these matters. What this is doing is, the parliamentary Liberal Party acknowledging that it’s own conduct over this period of time needs to be changed. It needs to be changed by that Party limiting itself. Of course the Liberal Party remains sovereign in how it makes these decisions and it has elected tonight, it has determined tonight that it has listened to the Australian people. It is willingly and enthusiastically putting this constraint to return the power of these decisions about who is Prime Minister in this country, to the Australian people.
As I said, this is the biggest change to how our Party deals with these matters since Robert Menzies first established the Party 74 years ago. The scale of that change I think reflects absolutely the deep reflection of our Party on these events and our deep commitment to giving the power to the Australian people. So, when you go to the next election and I lead the Party to the next election together with Josh, if you elect the Liberal Party, I will be the Prime Minister, I will remain as Prime Minister. I’ll continue to serve as Prime Minister, implementing our plans for the stronger economy that Australians rely on for the essential services that they need. That has been our record as a Government over the last five years; delivering a stronger economy that is guaranteeing those services. We are making great progress and we have got a strong plan that will ensure that we can protect the standard of living that Australians have today. But even more than that, that we can ensure they can realise the opportunities that they want, for them, their businesses, their families, their communities over the next decade. The economy that they live in, the stronger economy that they will live in over the next decade. The stronger communities that we want them to live in over the next decade, the stronger country, nation – safe and secure – that they and their families want to live in over the next decade.
So that’s what we’re offering. This is the team, this team elected is the team that will continue to govern Australia, that’s the choice and I want to thank my colleagues tonight for the strong trust and faith that they have put in us to take this forward and to have it resolved in the timely manner that it was done this evening.
I’ll ask Josh to make some comments as the Deputy and then we’re happy to take some questions.
THE HON. JOSH FRYDENBERG MP, TREASURER: Thanks Prime Minister. The changes in Australian Prime Ministers over the last decade has diminished the Parliament and it’s representatives in the eyes of the public. The Liberal Party has listened to the Australian people and the Liberal parliamentary party has responded tonight. The Prime Minister we take to the next election will be our Liberal Prime Minister after the next election. The Prime Minister received very strong support from the colleagues tonight and the issue was discussed fully. There were a number of constructive contributions and we have agreed on a way ahead. Our focus is on the Australian people, continuing to deliver them good government and the services that they need and deserve.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister it was John Howard who said that leadership was the gift of the Party Room. Doesn’t this actually undermine that gift, by potentially entrenching a leader that the Party Room doesn’t want?
PRIME MINISTER: Well I discussed this proposal with John Howard directly and we’ve been working on this for a little while. Let me just outline the process to you. The leadership team of the Liberal Party tasked the Party Whips to consider this matter and bring forward a proposal that could be considered by the Liberal ministry – which occurred this evening. Then, that went forward to the Party Room in that process, as they went through that, I’ve consulted with the former Prime Minister. I’ve always shared his view that the leadership of the Liberal Party is the gift of the parliamentary Party, that has always been our principle since we were first established, so therefore the parliamentary party is sovereign and that’s why it’s been the parliamentary Party that has voluntarily and enthusiastically said; “We are going to put this rule in place, we are going to put this condition in place.” So they’ve done that out of their own authority and that’s why it respects the principle that Mr Howard had always pursued and that I’ve always pursued. As a result I’ve been pleased to have the support for this measure.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister two questions if I may, at what point did you come to the conclusion that the rules must be changed and also, can you confirm that Tony Abbott in the Party Room tonight supported this and called it “atonement”?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I can confirm that the former Prime Minister did support this measure and I had the opportunity to discuss it with him and the former deputy leader as well, before it was taken to the Party Room tonight. I think it was important to show that respect to former leaders that continue to serve in our parliamentary Party and I did just that. Tony and I, I’m very grateful for his strong support tonight.
PRIME MINISTER: This is a matter that I have always had a view now for some months that would need to be addressed and certainly need to be addressed before the Parliament rose at the end of the year. James - just to help you before you lose your voice from all the shouting.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, this could conceivably, as I understand it, lead the country to a situation in which we have a Prime Minister that is supported by only 35 per cent of the Liberal Party Room and 65 per cent want them to go?
PRIME MINISTER: Well it’s two thirds, which is -
JOURNALIST: Yeah just under. Is that wise?
PRIME MINISTER: What this is doing is putting the power of the decision of who elects Prime Minister’s back in the hands of the Australian people.
JOURNALIST: But were a Prime Minister to lose by - well, were a Prime Minister not to have the majority of the Party room behind them? On what basis can we - ?
PRIME MINISTER: I think Australians will very much support the fact that the Liberal Party recognises that they’re the ones who should be in charge and -
JOURNALIST: That remains to be seen though.
PRIME MINISTER: That our focus will be on them. Look, it does remain to be seen, James. That’s why we’re being very clear to the Australian people tonight, that we have listened to them and we have acted consistent with what they expect our behaviour to be. And we have taken the decision to put these constraints in.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, could rule this be overturned by a simple majority?
PRIME MINISTER: No.
JOURNALIST: Why not?
PRIME MINISTER: It requires a two-thirds majority.
JOURNALIST: To overturn the rule?
PRIME MINISTER: Yes that’s right.
JOURNALIST: Does this apply to you know or only if you win the next election?
PRIME MINISTER: It only applies to leaders who successfully contest an election.
JOURNALIST: Will you stand down if you lose the election?
PRIME MINISTER: After every election, then the Party always elects its’ leader.
JOURNALIST: Does this rule apply to opposition leaders?
PRIME MINISTER: No.
JOURNALIST: So it only applies if you’re the Prime Minister. What is the rule if you are opposition leader?
PRIME MINISTER: The same rules apply as exist currently and there’s a reason for this. See, this is what we’re seeking to do here. We respect the fact - and I think this has been the great anguish of the Australian people, as they’ve seen this happen in both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party where they have seen these changes – and they’re sick of it and we’re sick of it and it has to stop. That’s why we’ve put this rule in place; if they elect a Prime Minister by electing a Government then they should have every reasonable expectation that that’s what should remain.
JOURNALIST: Did you push for a 75 per cent rule?
PRIME MINISTER: No, I did not.
JOURNALIST: Does this apply to the Deputy, by the way?
PRIME MINISTER: No.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, are you saying that it was the wrong thing to do to get rid of Malcolm Turnbull, are you saying, or are you happy to benefit from this rule?
PRIME MINISTER: What I am saying is the Liberal Party has listened to the Australian people about it’s behaviour on this issue over a long period of time. This has happened on too many occasions, that’s the reflection of the Liberal Party. We’re listening to the Australian people and we’re siding with their judgement.
JOURNALIST: Was it a mistake to get rid of Malcolm Turnbull?
PRIME MINISTER: Everyone just settle down, it’s late in the evening. I don’t know what you guys have been up to. You’re very spirited.
TREASURER: They are spirited, it’s beer o’clock.
JOURNALIST: You said you discussed the matter with former Prime Ministers, did that include Malcolm Turnbull?
PRIME MINISTER: I’ve only consulted members of the parliamentary Liberal Party -
JOURNALIST: What was the percentage of vote tonight?
PRIME MINISTER: This was carried by consensus, that’s the way our Liberal Party Room works.
PRIME MINISTER: Can everyone stop shouting?
JOURNALIST: You previously said that regulating for culture is never effective when you were asked about this leadership change rule. So what has changed since when you said that?
PRIME MINISTER: I’ve reflected deeply on the wishes of the Australian people and what we’ve got here is form following function; that is that the cultural change that we’re achieving as the leadership of this Party, is being reflected in the conventions that we will now follow going forward.
What this is … see we could come here and we could say; “We are a united Party,” and we are, and we are. But this is a demonstration of that, this is a practical demonstration of it to the Australian people, that we mean it. That we’re fair dinkum about it. That’s why the Party has made this change. This was not the proposal of one individual.
JOURNALIST: Why did you consult with John Howard but not Malcolm Turnbull?
PRIME MINISTER: Because John Howard has been a longstanding, if you like, governor of the conventions of what occurs in the Liberal Party. He is also the longest-serving leader of the Liberal Party and frankly there is no one living today who has greater experience of the Liberal Party as a leader than John Howard. So I don’t have any reservations about acknowledging his special status.
JOURNALIST: Did you agree to a March 2 election, which today Malcolm Turnbull said you had agreed to, a March 2 election under his Prime Ministership? Is that right?
PRIME MINISTER: The calling of an election is a matter for the Prime Minister and that is solely within their domain. So that is a matter for the Prime Minister of the time.
JOURNALIST: You said you supported a March 2 date though? Is that correct or is he lying?
PRIME MINISTER: I’m not going to go into private conversations other than to say it’s the prerogative of the Prime Minister to call the election date. They consult with many people and what position they may take from time to time will depend of the political circumstances at the time and those political circumstances changed dramatically.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask you Prime Minister, two questions; firstly, did anyone speak against this motion in the Party Room and secondly, if these rules were in place in August, you would not be Prime Minister. Why can the Australian people take you seriously when you say that you are changing the rules when if these rules are in place, Malcolm Turnbull would still be Prime Minister?
PRIME MINISTER: What we’re doing, what we’re addressing, is what we believe has been a weakness in the way that these issues have been conducted.
We’ve addressed it and we’ve fixed it.
See, this is my record in Australian politics; if I see a problem, I seek to fix it. As leader, I was elected to address issues and to ensure we can carry forward our Party to a successful election next year and between now and then, a lot of things are going to take place. There will be more policies announced. There will be a Budget that the Treasurer will hand down that will be in surplus, the first time that’s happened in more than a decade. I look forward to seeing that Budget handed down, because it will demonstrate very clearly to the Australian people what they would put at risk, what they would put at risk; the strength of our economy that Medicare depends on, that affordable medicines depend on. The strength of our Budget that comes from that strong economy, they would put all of that at risk with a Labor Party who are proven failures when it comes to managing the economy and managing a Budget.
Now, it’s important that Australians understand full well that where they have been frustrated with us, we have listened and we have acted. That is what our Party has done tonight.
JOURNALIST: Were there any arguments put against the proposal and what were they?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I’d say that the Party Room discussion tonight was basically that everyone was prepared to support the will of the Party Room tonight -
JOURNALIST: And the arguments against though?
PRIME MINISTER: Well that’s a matter for the Party Room. But I can say the response to this was overwhelmingly supportive.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, whose proposal was this? Was this your proposal?
PRIME MINISTER: As I outlined before, the proposal came forward from the Party Whips, this was not a proposal that came forward from me as the Party leader. I put in place, with the leadership team, a process to have this resolved that could have the whole Party –
PRIME MINISTER: That process involved the leadership team, then the Party Whips who recommended two thirds.
JOURNALIST: So there was no discussion of 75 per cent?
PRIME MINISTER: There was a discussion of a range of thresholds and the Party Room settled and I called it at two thirds and that was the recommendation originally from the Whips.
JOURNALIST: Is this an endorsement of Labor’s leadership rules?
PRIME MINISTER: No, theirs only requires a 50 per cent change, to change their rules. So this says that if you elect a Liberal Prime Minister, there is a strong guarantee from the Liberal Party tonight that you can be assured that a Liberal Prime Minister will stay in office. The Labor Party only needs a 50 per cent plus one change.
JOURNALIST: Why did Julie Bishop come late? Was she told?
PRIME MINISTER: Yes she was.