Malcolm Turnbull has taken “absolutely full responsibility” for his criticised election campaign, and declared the Coalition must rebuild public trust in itself on the issue of Medicare.
Turnbull said the fact people were willing to switch their vote on the basis of Labor’s “grotesque lie”, claiming the government would privatise Medicare, showed the Coalition had work to do – and it was committed to doing it.
“That is a very clear lesson. We have to do more to reaffirm the faith of the Australian people in our commitment to health and to Medicare,” Turnbull told a joint news conference with Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce.
“[We] have to work harder to rebuild or strengthen the trust of the Australian people in our side of politics when it comes to health. There is no question about that,” he said.
Labor’s lie was shocking but “we have to recognise that a material number of Australians were sufficiently concerned about our commitment to Medicare that they changed their vote”.
There had been “some fertile ground” in which the lie could be sown. But Turnbull gave no hint of any specific things he had in mind. In the budget, the government extended the freeze on the Medicare rebate, which prompted a campaign by doctors.
He said he would like Australians to believe the commitment to Medicare was “completely bipartisan”, like that to the aged pension.
Turnbull said there were other issues relating to general distrust or a sense of disenchantment with government. “We will work harder, much harder, to again ensure that Australians understand our very deep commitment to them.”
He said the election result showed “a level of disillusionment with politics, with government, and with the major parties”.
As Turnbull presented a more humble face than on Saturday night, Bill Shorten claimed “there is a very real chance” Turnbull was “considering calling a snap election in the mistaken belief that this will sort out his own problems”. He said Turnbull should not consider trying to contain the instability in his ranks by another election.
Shorten said Turnbull’s line on Medicare was “a desperate statement from a man desperately trying to … keep his own job”.
Among some Liberals Turnbull is being attacked for not hitting Labor hard enough with a negative campaign in areas such as boats and Shorten’s union past.
Peta Credlin, former chief-of-staff to Tony Abbott, lashed out at Turnbull, in a reprise of Turnbull’s words about John Howard after the unsuccessful republic referendum: “you’re the man who broke the Liberal Party’s heart”.
Credlin, speaking on Sky on Monday night, said anyone who was surprised at Turnbull’s Saturday night speech “needs to go back and look at the speech again when the republic referendum went down”.
She again accused Turnbull of not putting enough energy into his campaign and said senior colleagues who did not support a stronger agenda should be condemned.
Questioned by Andrew Bolt about whether Abbott was the only one who could lead the Liberals through this period, Credlin said: “Why would he do it? That hapless group of bedwetters are just as likely to see another couple of polls and say to him ‘thanks Tony but no thanks’.”
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said he had spoken to “dozens of colleagues and none of them are suggesting we should change leader”. The conservative element of the party thought the important thing was to be united, he said. But there was anger about aspects of the campaign, which some thought should have gone more negative.
Former prime minister John Howard urged Liberals to be calm. He said the election had not had “an outcome that we wanted but it’s not the end of the world”.
“People shouldn’t start slitting their throats, certainly not Liberals,” Howard said.
With the backlash against Turnbull coming from the conservatives in the party, Howard said Liberals should remember the Liberal Party was a broad church. “It’s always been the custodian of two traditions of the conservative tradition and the small-l liberal tradition. And it always works well and works best when both of those traditions are respected.”
Turnbull said if returned to government the Coalition would put its industrial relations legislation – on which the double dissolution was called – again to the parliament in accordance with Section 57 of the constitution. This is a preliminary for presenting the legislation to a joint sitting – although it seems unlikely the government would have the numbers to get the bills though a joint sitting.
Turnbull said he remained “quietly confident, reasonably confident” of forming a majority government.
In Tuesday’s Essential poll 54% said they made up their mind on how they would vote more than four weeks before the election. One-third (33%) decided during the campaign; 7% decided on election day.
Coalition voters were more likely to have decided more than a month before the election (62%) compared to Labor voters (51%). Some 37% of Labor voters decided in the campaign compared to 29% of Coalition voters.