Steve Austin: Queensland Liberal Senator Ian Macdonald has been a critic of Tony Abbott and some of his decisions for a period of time. Ian Macdonald thank you for coming on this morning, can I get your reaction first about the spill motion this morning
Senator Macdonald: Well Steve it was as I advocated and as I hoped and as I thought would be the case. I think most of my colleagues had my view that Tony had made some mistakes. He has spoken to most of the backbench in recent times and has indicated that he has accepted bad calls and has a plan for correcting that into the future and I think most people like myself were prepared to take his word and give him that opportunity.
Steve Austin: Did the backbenchers who called for the spill motion, shoot themselves in the foot?
Senator Macdonald: Well I urged them against it. Spills never really achieve anything even if they are successful. You have a divided party, half the party favour it and half the party don’t. And so it is not the right way to do it, it’s the Labor way. I look at the time when Alexander Downer was leader and not very popular and going backwards in the opinion polls. He and John Howard sorted it out in between them in a gentlemanly way and we moved on to one of the more successful governments we ever had in this country under John Howard. So I think there is a better way to deal with any uncertainties and perceived problems rather than a spill. So I am pleased that the spill was defeated. But the onus is now on Tony Abbott as he said in the broadcast you just played. The people of Australia need the good governance they deserve.
Unfortunately Tony and some of his ministers made some silly decisions in last year’s budget, the co-payment, the paid parental leave scheme and a couple of others that I have been public about. It was those that lost the confidence of the public. But I think they can retrieve it. Tony is certainly a much wiser man in his own words and is very conscious as he described, it as a near death experience and his discussions with me, I had an hour with him last week, indicated that he understood that there had been problems and was very prepared to change to make sure we get back to good governance that Australians still expect. And Steve can I finish that by saying, people will say that this is a political comment but it’s not, history shows that Australia does better in the long term under Liberal Governments and to do that we got to win the next election. At the present time if we had an election, I fear for the outcome. But I think now that Tony has indicated this new approach, a more colligate involvement with all Australians, not doing things without proper consultation with those directly in contact with ordinary Australians, then I think we can go onto bigger and better things, to be a government that even surpasses John Howard’s government which was so good for Australia.
Steve Austin: Obviously the people of Australia will decide on that when the next federal election is, but it’s like Tony Abbott has been asked to completely redesign or rebuild his personality, his character trait, now that is extraordinary difficult for anyone in any walk of life politics, business, sport anywhere. It is almost like the party is asking for him to change who he is at his core and there is a lot of question marks that anyone can do that.
Senator Macdonald: Well no, I think the party is asking to do what he has indicated he will do that is to change his approach to government. The approach to government is what has got us into trouble. The issue of paid parental leave, the co-payment were things that weren’t discussed with the party. They are probably technically correct but they didn’t take into account the Australian public, they didn’t take into account fairness and reasonableness and you know they are errors that anyone can make. Tony was elected Prime Minister with huge problems to fix up, Labor’s $700 billion debt that everyone out there will have to pay off one day. I think he went at it too assiduously, too quickly, I don’t think he was well advised by those close to him, it was all get this fixed up don’t worry about what the Australian public think, we will tell them what’s best. I think he realises now that is not the right way to do it. We can achieve good things, perhaps not as quickly but in a more consultative way a more in tune in what Australians are thinking.
Steve Austin: Look let me ask you where he gets his advice. As the last federal election was happening and he won as Prime Minister, the ALP said he was a misogamist. He didn’t have enough women on his team, but now he has shown he takes orders from a woman, Peta Credlin his chief of staff and this appears to be animating some people on the backbench, people like yourself that you are unhappy with the influence Ms Credlin has over him and the operations of the Liberal Party federally. Can you address that?
Senator Macdonald: Well look with Ms Credlin, I made some comments 15 months ago I think it was, I have said nothing since and have had nothing to do with Ms Credlin since. I know that Tony Abbott denies she has influence over him. It’s often not whether that is the truth or not, it’s the perception of that. Look as an elected politician myself I want to deal with my colleagues, I want to deal with the Prime Minister or Treasurer, I don’t want to deal with unelected advisers who are advising the ministers and that was a difficulty. I am sure that Tony is very conscious of that, while I say that he is very loyal to Peta and rejects suggestions that she has undue influence and if he rejects that, I accept his word. But as I have said to him, that is the perception. But that is a matter for him to run his office as he will. His advice should come not from the Peta Credlin’s of the world, his advice comes from the public service and from his colleagues in the cabinet and I do think, (I have said this publically before) that his colleagues in the Cabinet have not been prepared to say to him, Tony that is a silly idea. I would hope in the future that cabinet will be more robust, they will actually impose more of what they see as the right approach in which they will get from their own constituents and their colleagues on the backbench. So I think it can be achieved and I am quite positive towards the future. I think Tony fully understands that and if it doesn’t work out, the first one that will know that will be Tony Abbott and if things don’t turn around I believe that Tony will take the necessary action himself. But I am very confident he will be able to turn it around.
Steve Austin: But if things don’t turn around, you expect him to resign from the position?
Senator Macdonald: Well look, I go back to John Howard before the last election, where he was defeated. If only John had seen the writing on the wall. I’m sure if he did see it on the wall and resigned back then, Peter Costello will still have been Prime Minister of Australia. Tony Abbott has lived through all that, as have I, he understands these things, he can read the polls, he can read the newspapers, and he can hear what people are saying and he like me believes that Australia’s interests lie having a Liberal Government in charge after the next election We need 10 years to fix up Labor’s mess and I think everyone understands that. And Tony as I do, wouldn’t want to stand in the way of happening that.
Steve Austin: I will have to leave it there Senator Macdonald, thank you so much for your time I really appreciate it.