15 September 2015
Transcript - #2015105, 2015

Interview with Kieran Gilbert and David Speers, AM Agenda, Sky News

SUBJECTS: Leadership, Tony Abbott, Labor, small business

DAVID SPEERS:

Bruce Billson joins us now, good morning to you.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Good morning gentleman.

DAVID SPEERS:

It is a tough business you are in.

MINISTER BILLSON:

It is an important business, this gets a lot of attention - but it is really about building the best opportunities for our country and our citizens. So, a good foundation that the new team has to build from.

DAVID SPEERS:

Let me ask you - At what moment did you know that Tony Abbott had lost it, was it really when the vote happened?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I think so. I mean, there was obviously some indications that some colleagues were looking to change our captain-coach.

I mean, essentially the leader is the captain-coach of the team, selected amongst the peers to set the tempo and then to frame our strategy and I sensed there were a few looking for a change of captain-coach, hard to know how those numbers were washing out.

As you mentioned in your introduction, as a Cabinet Minister, I am loyal to the Prime Minister and I am a bit of an old fuddy-duddy like that, and a bit of a believer in…

DAVID SPEERS:

Not all of your colleagues were.

MINISTER BILLSON:

But that is up to them. I mean, I always try and conduct myself in a way that I find it appropriate and that I can reflect on as being…

DAVID SPEERS:

Are you disappointed then with the outcome?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Not disappointed in that the colleagues have made their decision and that is exactly what the process is about.

It was handled well, the process was fair, it was a good opportunity for colleagues to express a view and as I mentioned, it is electing one of our peers to be our captain-coach and that is a process that is important in our party and that opportunity is afforded to candidates to put their names forward.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Julie Bishop…

MINISTER BILLSON:

I want to thank you though, for pumping me up as deputy leader.

DAVID SPEERS:

I did.

MINISTER BILLSON:

I wasn't even a candidate, but, I knew it wasn't my mum, she is in hospital recovering from a knee operation, so, whoever put that around, I can blame you for that I suspect.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Pass on our regards to Mrs Billson, and we wish her all the best for the recovery.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Thank you, I appreciate that.

KIERAN GILBERT:

But in terms of the role of Julie Bishop, she says she is a conduit for the backbench and it is incumbent upon her to reflect the concerns of the backbench and to tell the Prime Minister.

Tough, as David said before, the toughest thing that she has done in politics, to tell the Prime Minister, the outgoing Prime Minister that he had lost the support of the majority of the party room. What do you think of her role in this?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I think she handled herself with great dignity and grace. A difficult situation to be in. I think it is her responsibility as the Deputy Leader to bring that kind of news to the Leader even if it is not the news anyone wants to necessarily hear.

But she is not a player in these exercises, she is a very dignified, trusted and respected part of the leadership team and I think she carried out her, the heavy weight of her responsibility with grace and dignity and did what I think a person in that senior position was required to do.

DAVID SPEERS:

This means you can no longer attack Labor for cutting down a sitting Prime Minister?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well, we can attack Labor for so many things, we can attack Labor for not having any policies.

DAVID SPEERS:

But not that…

MINISTER BILLSON:

We can attack Labor for not getting behind important reforms for the economy.

DAVID SPEERS:

But not for ousting a sitting Prime Minister.

MINISTER BILLSON:

I will have a bit of a go too. I mean, we can attack Labor for now being the fully owned subsidiary of the CFMEU, there is so much material.

And the one thing Bill Shorten cannot do. I do not know why he went out last night, I thought that just showed a lack of class, to try and opportunistically engage in that process but he is no more popular today than he was yesterday, and he was not all that popular yesterday.

KIERAN GILBERT:

So, how is Tony Abbott holding up?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well, in my discussions with him last night he is obviously, it is quite raw, as you can imagine. I mean, he has given, selflessly given himself to the cause of our nation for six years.

I mean, let us remember the task of an Opposition Leader is a difficult one, we went so close, arguably one that the election but didn't when the negotiations afterwards and he stayed very focused and disciplined, very inclusive.

The lovely remarks conveyed to the Prime Minister last night by many for his role in leading our party and the foundation that he has built.

Of course, to Margie and the girls, this is a tough, tough business and when you give so much, as Tony has, that has implications on those near and dear to him as well.

DAVID SPEERS:

Where do you think he went wrong?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well, that is not for me to run a commentary on - the colleagues made an assessment, a new captain-coach was required, you know, we are into the third quarter of the electoral cycle and the scoreboard results are not there, we have got good…

KIERAN GILBERT:

You are happy to serve in the Cabinet of the [inaudible].

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well, look, if they are looking for a bit of zip zip and perpetual optimism, that is my role. But what a great story….

KIERAN GILBERT:

You are happy to serve under Malcolm Turnbull?

MINISTER BILLSON:

That will be up to Malcolm.

KIERAN GILBERT:

You are obviously willing to…

MINISTER BILLSON:

I would love to keep doing my work for small business; we have really energised enterprise and what a great foundation we have for the new Prime Minister – for all the support that the small business community has received and the positive feedback that we have got from that crucial part of our community.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Bruce Billson, a difficult day for you and supporter of Tony Abbott, but thanks so much for your time.

MINISTER BILLSON:

It is a sunny day, full of delicious possibilities. A brand-new day, let us make the most of it and get amongst it.

KIERAN GILBERT:

We do like a bit of Billson zest.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Good to see you gentlemen.

DAVID SPEERS:

Thank you very much.