SUBJECT/S:  Possible LNP defections to National Party; Malcolm Turnbull’s coalition in crisis.

JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE,FISHERIES AND FORESTRY, SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS:  Well a very bad week for Malcolm Turnbull most underscored by the Mal Brough affair is about to get a lot worse, with reports of defections of Ian Macfarlane, Scott Buchholz and maybe more from the Liberal Party to the National Party.  We’ve known since Malcolm Turnbull executed Tony Abbott more than 10 weeks ago that the consequences of that were bubbling in the form of resentment just below the surface.  But since I started to read of the monkey pod room, public stoushes between Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop, and of course then Tony Abbott singing Suspicious Minds in the Nationals’ Party Room, I knew things were about to get worse and that certainly appears to be the case.

The interesting thing about this dynamic is that these defections appear to be sponsored by Barnaby Joyce.  And you will recall that on execution night no one was more angry about the demise of Tony Abbott then Barnaby Joyce.  It is also interesting to note that Scott Buchholz is a former staffer to Barnaby Joyce.  This is more than about Ian Macfarlane who of course will use this to re-enter the Cabinet via the Nationals.  This is about a re-emergence of the Abbott camp sponsored mainly by Barnaby Joyce.  It’s as much about Barnaby Joyce’s own ambition to be Leader of the Nationals.  Malcolm Turnbull has achieved something that no Liberal Leader has ever achieved and that is to build support in the Nationals Party Room.  And again that’s all about Barnaby Joyce’s ambitions to be Leader of the Nationals post Warren Truss, who obviously knows nothing about this arrangement, but more particularly this is about the Abbott camp running, and running hard, so Mal Brough’s not Malcolm Turnbull’s only problem today in the Parliament, he’s got indeed possibly even larger problems. The Abbott camp is on the march, Barnaby Joyce the main organiser, and sponsor and there is no question they are coming after Malcolm Turnbull.

JOURNALIST:  How does all this help Barnaby Joyce?

FITZGIBBON:  Well Barnaby Joyce is a guy that I think wears his emotions on his shirt sleeve.  He made it very clear on execution night he wasn’t happy about the demise of Tony Abbott.   He then secured it seemed a deal for the Nationals, he secured certain promises from Malcolm Turnbull, promises that clearly haven’t been delivered, so since then, of course, Barnaby Joyce’s grown more and more angry.  On top of that of course, he is looking at his own ambitions to be Leader of the Nationals.  He is building support by adding to the Nationals’ Party Room, that’s going to upset a number of other Nationals who also have ambition but just as important, the carve up of the LNP in Queensland is based on electorates not personalities.  Ian Macfarlane’s electorate is deemed to be, if you like, a Liberal electorate, rather than a Nationals’ electorate.  When he defects to the Nationals, that becomes a Nationals’ electorate.  That’s going to cause volcanic type disruptions in the LNP in Queensland, something Malcolm Turnbull is being left to manage and I suspect is going to struggle to manage that political process.

JOURNALIST:  What hasn’t Turnbull delivered to Barnaby Joyce and the Nationals?

FITZGIBBON:  Well the two key points there.  We have demanded the offering up of the so called “side letter” that Malcolm Turnbull added to the agreement with the Nationals; that has never been forthcoming, notwithstanding even a Senate motion to try to procure that document.  They don’t want that document procured for two reasons: one they massively overstated the arrangements in that deal; and two Turnbull hasn’t delivered on some of the promises.  We don’t know them all because they won’t give us the document.  But one thing is certain, the decision of course to give Barnaby Joyce responsibility for water was massively overstated.  Turnbull has carved out deliberately the Commonwealth Water Holder so that Barnaby Joyce can’t get his hands on it and of course he has put Anne Ruston in place, a South Australian Senator with slightly different views about water then Barnaby Joyce to keep a check on him. 

JOURNALIST:  Well thanks for that.  Isn’t the fact of the matter if these people defect from the Liberals to the Nationals they don’t get a vote in any subsequent Liberal Party Room elections?

FITZGIBBON:  This is all about creating instability.  When people start defecting from one party in a coalition to the other party they know exactly what they are doing, they know exactly what impact that is going to have on Malcolm Turnbull and his team around them.  Malcolm Turnbull has a crisis on his hands today and there are suggestions that there might not be just two but others could be following.  This is a real problem for Malcolm Turnbull, and the Australian people are looking for leadership and good policy from a government but all they are getting this week is a government in disarray, a government effectively in crisis now.

JOURNALIST:   But Ian McDonald voted for Malcolm Turnbull in the leadership spill.  Why do you think Ian McDonald would actually be aggrieved ?  sorry, Macfarlane.

FITZGIBBON:  Ian Macfarlane was the first mover against Tony Abbott.  No one is more responsible for the demise of Tony Abbott then Ian Macfarlane.  But Ian Macfarlane was rewarded by his own execution from the Cabinet to the backbench.  He has no doubt been reflecting on that for the past 10 or 11 weeks and been looking for ways to seek retribution, and there can be no better form of retribution then to begin a march from one coalition party room to another.

JOURNALIST:  There is some suggestion that all this is part of some sort of a plot to reshuffle the frontbench, that Ian Macfarlane moves to the Nats and gives Malcolm Turnbull the opportunity to reshuffle and move Mal Brough back to the backbench.

FITZGIBBON:  Anyone who believes that Ian Macfarlane and Scott Buchholz today, who of course was dropped as Chief Government Whip after the execution of Tony Abbott, are out to help Malcolm Turnbull in any way is showing poor political judgement.  This is an anti-Malcolm Turnbull move by the anti-Malcolm Turnbull forces, the disaffected, in the wake of the leadership change.

Thanks everyone.


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