Buenos Aires: Scott Morrison has warned an “incredibly cocky” Labor that his government was not as divided as claimed and that he was returning to Australia for the final week of Parliament with a “steely resolve and determination” to reverse the Coalition’s fortunes.
In an interview with The Australian Financial Review on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, the Prime Minister said the spectre of division that has plagued the government in recent weeks was not substantial and nor had the government lost control of the Parliament.
“There’s a lot of hot air, there’s a lot of enthusiastic prophecy being made about the government – let’s just see what happens,” Mr Morrison said on what was his 100th day in office.
“The Labor Party and others can proclaim as much as they like about where they think the Liberal Party is and the government is, but our government will fight hard.
“My position is we’ll unite and we will fight hard as we go into this last week and from here to the next election. The government has a steely determination.”
Mr Morrison said his focus, and that of his colleagues, must be “those millions of Australians who don’t have the time to pore over politics every day” because they were concerned with day-to-day life issues.
“They are looking to me, they are looking to the Liberal Party, the National Party to ensure that the things that matter to them, the strong economy they are relying on … remains front and centre.
“What you’ll find from me is a steely resilience and determination.”
Although there was ill-discipline, Mr Morrison did not believe it was substantial enough to constitute division.
“I think we do have unity. People are determined to stand and fight,” he said.
The government was rocked last week when disgruntled MP Julia Banks defected to the crossbench, Julie Bishop broke ranks on energy policy and Tony Abbott signalled he was open to a leadership comeback. This followed a poor result for the Victorian Liberal Party at the state election and more bad opinion polling for the federal Coalition.
Ms Bank’s defection left the government with just 73 MPs out of 149 on the floor of the House but Mr Morrison noted the government did not subsequently lose a vote, despite various threats from Labor and the crossbench to team up on such issues as referring Peter Dutton to the High Court and pushing for a National Integrity Commission.
“We held it together, people are prepared to stick and fight.” Mr Morrison said, adding that he had been running a minority government ever since Malcolm Turnbull resigned after he lost the leadership in August
“In the course of that period of time we’ve got a lot done.”
Ms Banks indicated at the weekend that she would vote to refer Mr Dutton to the High Court to test whether his business dealings constituted a pecuniary interest issue and put him in breach of section 44(v) of the constitution.
Mr Morrison said if Ms Banks and others were to do this, they should be consistent and refer up to three others under a similar cloud. This includes new independent member for Wentworth Kerryn Phelps.
“There are three other House members that have the same issues that have been suggested about Peter Dutton, so any principled position, anyone seeking to be truly fair about these things would apply the same rule to all of those members,” he said.
“The government isn’t seeking to refer any of those members.”