ABC News Breakfast

Interview

DCI095/2017

04 December 2017

Subjects: Polls, leadership, same-sex marriage

Michael Rowland: Lot’s to talk about this morning. Let’s take you straight to Canberra. We’re joined by Senior Nationals Minister Darren Chester. Minister, good morning to you.

Darren Chester: Good morning Michael.

Michael Rowland: Let's start with that breakout from the IPSOS poll. We’re reporting this morning 70 per cent of Australian voters are sick and tired of both sides knifing leaders mid-term. What do you make of that?

Darren Chester: Well I'd have to say, Michael, I think it's a statement of the bleeding obvious. When I get out around regional Australia, which I probably do more than most, the feedback I get is: guys, you've picked a leader, stick with him, take him the full duration of the distance to the next election and we'll decide who is going to lead Australia going forward, not some back-room dealers. So look, I'm not surprised at all by the poll. Me personally, I back my leader Barnaby Joyce extremely strongly and I back Malcolm Turnbull just as strongly. I think he's doing a good job in very difficult circumstances. I think Malcolm’s tough, he’s resilient, and he’s worked his way through some pretty hard issues in the last couple of months and hopefully we will get through this week and tidy up a few other significant issues and get on with delivering everything we said we'd deliver to the Australian people.

Michael Rowland: So based on what you’ve said and based on what that poll tells us, what would you say to your colleagues - particularly National Party colleagues - who have both been publicly voicing their dissents about Malcolm Turnbull and also backgrounding journalists?

Darren Chester: Well, a point I would make, Michael, just a small point: there has been three or four National Party colleagues who, yes, have been speaking out, but that's out of a party room of 21. So the vast majority of the National Party room has been rock solid in support of the leadership team. But what I would say quite simply is before you open your mouth, just think for a second: how is this going to make sure that we can stay in Government and keep delivering everything we said we'd deliver in the last election - we’re working our way through doing that - or is what you're about to say going to help Bill Shorten walk into the Lodge? Now, keep in mind, two former prime ministers in Rudd and Gillard couldn't trust Bill Shorten, why should the Australian people? National Party MPs and Liberal Party MPs should be backing Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce every step of the way to the next election.

Michael Rowland: You spend a lot of time in regional Australia, as you say, and when we saw how happy the Prime Minister was standing next to Barnaby Joyce on Saturday night when his deputy took back the seat of New England. But speaking to punters in country pubs, on main streets, do you still believe Malcolm Turnbull has to do a bit more, I guess, to properly communicate to rural and regional voters?

Darren Chester: No, I don't think it's about properly communicating, I think it's about getting some clear air to explain how our policies are actually benefitting people, both in the city and in the country. If you look at results over the past couple of years, there's 500,000 new jobs in Australia; there has been tax cuts for small businesses, and incentives to small businesses to invest in their own operations; and in my own portfolio $75 billion 10-year infrastructure investment plan. We are seeing better and safer roads, there’s a major rail investment with the Inland Rail project; the Western Sydney Airport project will start next year. I was on the North Coast of New South Wales last week and to see the progress on the duplication of the Pacific highway between Sydney and Brisbane, that’ll be a fully duplicated 4-lane highway between Sydney and Brisbane by 2020. There is work going on up and down the length of that highway right now, thousands of people employed. We're not getting a lot of clear air to talk about those sort of positive things, I have to say Michael, and that’s a product of modern day politics, I guess. But I think when Malcolm gets out there and has the chance to talk to the punters on the streets or in the pubs or clubs around the place, he’s very well-received.

Michael Rowland: We mentioned George Christensen there. He has apologised for lying about saying that he'd quit the Coalition and sit on the crossbench if Malcolm Turnbull wasn't gone by Christmas. Is his behaviour honourable?

Darren Chester: Look, I don't want to run a commentary on my colleagues. I have known George now for the seven years he’s been here and we’ve always got on pretty well. We’ve had quite a few disagreements on different policy areas and he’s always been pretty straight with me so I'm disappointed that George has misled a few people in the last week or two. George needs to reflect on that, it’s not for me to run a commentary on someone who is a colleague, and look I'll have a chat to George privately this week and see where he is at. I think he has made a blue and he has owned to it and let's hope that we can just move on as a united team.

Michael Rowland: How deep is the sense of forgiveness? Because not only has he admitted to lying but it’s also been revealed he has effectively been working in cahoots with the likes of Conservative columnist Andrew Bolt and Tony Abbott’s former Chief of Staff Peta Credlin to actively undermine the Prime Minister.

Darren Chester: Well, I think you raise an interesting point, Michael, about what is the role of journalists and columnists these days. I mean, are they active players in the Parliamentary space, in which case they probably should run for Parliament and try and get a job in this place. I don't like the thought that there are active players behind the scenes trying to conspire to bring down a Prime Minister. I'm not sure that's the role of a journalist or a columnist. But anyway, George and I have always got on pretty well and like I said, I'll have a private chat with George this week. He's someone that I've always regarded as a mate. I think he's made a blue, he's owned up to it, and in the spirit of Christmas, I think it’s probably good if we forgive him and move on with the big issues that matter in Australia right now.

Michael Rowland: Okay. Just before we go, one of those very big issues, of course, is the same-sex marriage bill now squarely before the House of Representatives. Are you confident, Darren Chester, that will pass by the end of the week?

Darren Chester: Yes, I am, Michael. I think this is an historic week and I think we're going to see one of those occasions in the Parliament where people will be proud of their Parliament. This will be Parliament at its best. We as Members of Parliament will have a chance to speak freely on an issue that many have quite strong convictions on, and keep in mind the postal vote which was allegedly going to divide Australians I think could end up being a very much a uniting moment. We've seen 80-odd percent of Australians cast their vote, the vast majority have said yes. It's now up to us as Members of the House of Representatives to reflect the will of the people. I think this will be a great week for the Australian Parliament. I think it will be a week the Australian people will feel proud of us again. You know as well as I do, we have got to keep on working with the Australian people to restore trust and their confidence in the integrity of the system. I think this will be a good week for the Parliament of Australia.

Michael Rowland: Okay, Darren Chester. Let us know how your chat with George Christensen goes as well. We're all ears.

Darren Chester: That's very kind of you, Michael. Have a good day.

Michael Rowland: We can send a camera along if you like. Thank you very much for your time, Minister.