Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has clashed with 2GB presenter Alan Jones, accusing him of “promoting the impression that I’m after Tony Abbott’s job” and declaring the controversial broadcaster is doing Labor’s work.
In an interview in which Jones constantly attacked him, especially for dining with PUP leader Clive Palmer, Turnbull revealed he had privately told Palmer he should “man up and apologise” to Tony Abbott’s chief of staff, Peta Credlin, for his comment about her potentially benefiting from the Coalition’s controversial paid parental leave scheme.
When Jones - a strong spruiker for the Prime Minister - opened by asking Turnbull to say after him that he was totally supportive of the Abbott-Hockey strategy for budget repair, Turnbull said: “Alan, I am not going to take dictation from you”, before declaring he wholeheartedly supported every element of the budget.
Defending his dinner invitation to Palmer last week, Turnbull said: “We can’t get anything through the Senate after July 1 - unless we get Labor and the Greens to vote for it - without the support of Palmer’s group. So we need his support, we need to be engaged, you can’t get around that.”
In reply to Jones' proposition that Abbott had indicated in the party room that meetings with Palmer were to be co-ordinated by Senate leader Eric Abetz and House leader Christopher Pyne, Turnbull said: “There is no restriction or limitation on me or anyone else meeting with crossbenchers.” Coordination was only needed when legislation was being negotiated.
When Jones suggested that Turnbull had not defended Credlin, he said he had written to her at the time. “I sent a message to Palmer, telling him he should man up and apologise. I then rang him and spoke to him and told him in no uncertain terms that he should apologise. And he sent a note [to Credlin], which obviously wasn’t an adequate apology.”
Turnbull said he had been asked to write an op-ed about Credlin and Palmer but when he asked her about it, Credlin had told him she’d rather he not do so.
“Others can jump up and down, make political capital for and against on this. My only foremost interest has been in ensuring (a) that Palmer apologised, and I was unsuccessful in that, and (b) in minimising the pain caused for someone for whom I have considerable respect.”
Jones, a former coach of the Wallabies, said that if one of his players on the eve of a test had been seen dining with a member of the All Blacks “the player would be sent home, Malcolm”.
“We are not playing football,” Turnbull replied.
Turnbull said he and Abbott were a team. “We have a very united team here. And the thing that has distressed me this week is that people, yourself, Andrew Bolt in particular, have set out to suggest that there is dissension in the government, that there are challenges to Tony’s leadership,” he said.
“This is the most united, cohesive government we’ve had in this country for a long time and I think it is just very sad that you and Bolt are doing the work of the Labor Party in undermining the Abbott government.”
Jones denied he was saying Turnbull was after Abbott’s job because “you’ve got not a hope in hell of getting Tony Abbott’s job”.
Turnbull earlier this week lashed out at Bolt, saying the conservative columnist’s stringing together of the Palmer dinner and the communications minister’s attendance at the launch of a friends of the ABC group was “quite unhinged”.
After the Jones interview Turnbull defended taking on his critics. He told reporters that when people made outrageous, false and trouble-making allegations, “you can ignore it, in which case silence is deemed as some kind of agreement or consent.
“You can give a mealy-mouthed response, which is not much better, or you can actually state your case, call a spade a bloody shovel and call this out for what it is, which is what I have done.
“You may think I have been more forthright than I ought to have been but the bottom line is I am not going to take a backward step in my job of defending this government, this government’s unity, this government’s budget.”