On Wednesday I called 2GB’s Ray Hadley after an extraordinary interview he had with Malcolm Turnbull.
I said that Malcolm Turnbull was not fit to be a minister – because of his actions the previous day (regarding Federal Police search of Channel 7 in Sydney) and because of his explanations given on air.
RH: … I don’t have an issue… with him [Bruce McWilliam] calling you. I don’t have a problem with that. I think he is fully entitled as the Commercial Director to phone the Minister who is charge of the portfolio which he deals with, and that’s Communications, to say “Listen we’ve got a problem here do you know anything about it”. I don’t have a problem with that. Is that the way you see it?
MT: Well absolutely… People call politicians with problems all the time, and that’s part of my job to take those calls and listen to them and if I can do something to help to do so. Now. Now, what happened yesterday was completely conventional.
Bruce McWilliam called me, I am the Communications Minister. He obviously was, you know, was unhappy, you know, with the large number of Police officers raiding the Seven Network. I contacted the two ministers… ended up speaking briefly to each of them. I relayed the conversation I had had with McWilliam and then went back to McWilliam and said… if you want to take, you know, want to discuss this, then the person you should talk to is George Brandis, and I put them in touch with each other. Bruce, as I understand it from George, subsequently called George Brandis, but Mr Brandis in fact subsequently talked to the Chairman of Seven Network Kerry Stokes. And that is. And that is it. And it is a completely conventional matter.
RH: [quizzes on appropriateness of MT calling the two Ministers (Justice and Attorney General)
MT: … The answer is yes… Because you have a stakeholder in my portfolio… who rings up with a complaint, a concern, something they are unhappy about – it is not in my portfolio, I am not responsible for AFP, so what I do is refer it to the Minister who is responsible. Now, and that, and then, err, encourage them to communicate…
True, the matter was not in his portfolio. Bruce McWilliam was not calling about the AFP enforcing some part of communications law – and McWilliam knew that. He was using his influence, friendship, status and being part the elite to ‘get a Minister on the line’. How often do subjects of an AFP search warrant ring a Minister to complain? And get through? And then get counsel on who to call and how to get in touch with the Attorney General and Justice Minister of Australia? Mr Turnbull’s response that this phone call was conventional, and akin to ‘normal’ people calling their local member with a problem, was deliberately disingenuous. It might fly on talkback radio but it won’t fly in the hothouse of Canberra.
Let me postulate what will happen now. Mr Abbot will be hounded by the Opposition in Question Time this week and thus by the sympathetic Canberra press gallery.
- · Mr Abbott do you agree with what Mr Turnbull did/said?
- · Would you have done what Mr Turnbull did/said?
Then the killer
- · Mr Abbott given that you have said you would not have done what Mr Turnbull said/did – do you have confidence in him?
This will go on for two weeks. And then the inevitable Senate Enquiry will begin, because this in not “Cabinet-in-Confidence” type material.
- · Mr McWilliam, why did you call Mr Turnbull?
- · Mr McWilliam, what did you say to Mr Turnbull?
- · Mr Turnbull what did you say to Mr McWilliam?
- · Mr Turnbull, what did you do? Why did you do that?
- · Mr Turnbull what did you say to….
- · Mr X, what did say to Mr Turnbull…
- · And so on…
This will fill the media for a month. And if they try and cover anything up – it will be the cover-up that does then in.
And Joe Hockey’s Budget (and other government messages leading up to the Budget period) will be lost in the noise (perhaps a benefit – but I don’t think so). Mr Turnbull will have some very angry Cabinet colleagues.
Second, this is another example of the Turnbull tragedy – a great man with a fatal flaw. Mr Turnbull still thinks he is the big man wheeler & dealer who gets things done by going straight to the top. He does not mess about with due process and convention. “I’ll just ring George and find out what’s happening.”
Third, his explanations to you show a complete lack of understanding of being a Minister. A Minister can do nothing by himself. A Minister must act through others. He should have just said: “Bruce I really can’t help you on this or comment” and hung up. I would go so far as to say he should not make any suggestions, or provide any counsel, to Bruce McWilliam on whom he should ring.