15 September 2015
Transcript - #2015106, 2015

Interview with Jon Faine, Mornings, ABC 774, Melbourne

SUBJECTS: Leadership

JON FAINE:

Bruce Billson has been the Minister for Small Business in the Federal Government and has spoken to us from time to time in that capacity. He joins us from the national capital as well this morning. Mr Billson, good morning to you.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Good morning to you Jon and your listeners.

JON FAINE:

How likely now the group hugs, sit around, sing kumbaya and all get on again together after this?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I am not sure about the choice of tune, but I am pretty clear from the feedback from colleagues last night that the decision has been made; now we need to all pull together, focus on the work at hand and get better outcomes for Australians and our nation.

JON FAINE:

The Prime Minister went to the meeting with a kind of flying wedge formation of about 30 or so members of his staunchest supporters. Most of those people will never accept Malcolm Turnbull's progressive agenda and policies.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yeah, look I think that might be over egging it a little bit. There is, when the team picks their captain coach and that is essentially what this process is about, different individuals for a range of different reasons will gravitate towards different candidates.

I do not think it is quite as hard wired as the way you would describe and in fact the sentiments that were expressed after the ballot last night were all one of – now the decision has been made, let's get back to work and get on with governing well – and that was very much a view shared across the colleagues regardless of who they may have voted for in the election.

JON FAINE:

Have you had a chat to Mr Turnbull?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I had a very brief chat with him yesterday. He rang to enquire of my intentions.

JON FAINE:

Before the vote?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yes, that is right.

JON FAINE:

And?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I advised him that as a Cabinet Minister I would be supporting the Prime Minister and wished him well. I enjoy working with Malcolm; in fact, we sit beside each other in Cabinet and have a great shared interest in innovation and entrepreneurship. I wished him well and he can count on my support.

JON FAINE:

He can now count on your support?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yes he can.

JON FAINE:

But one of the things that intrigues those of us outside the black arts of politics Mr Billson is how you can, on the one hand, one day, say no I do not think you should be the Prime Minister and leader of our country, and the next day say, well now that you are I totally pledge my loyalty and support to you.

MINISTER BILLSON:

I put it a slightly different way. I mean, when we are asked to make a choice and that is the prerogative of the Party Room to bring about that ballot, it is a statement of where you place your support. It is not a commentary on the opposition or the other candidate.

This is why in our process, we have this ballot. This is where the colleagues choose one amongst our peers as our captain coach and then once that decision has been made, you get back to work.

I don't start each day feeling that my view will always be right and correct and the only point of view and if the collective wisdom of the team is to bring about a change, I have great regard for my colleagues. I respect that decision and realise we have got very important work to do for our communities.

JON FAINE:

Well that is as cliché as what Kelly O'Dwyer was saying before isn't it?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well, no, I am sorry if you find it that way Jon but it is actually the way it is. I mean it's…

JON FAINE:

Was he over-loyal to Joe Hockey? Overly-loyal to Bronwyn Bishop when she was in the midst of an expenses scandal?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Oh he is a very loyal dependable individual. He counts…

JON FAINE:

Is he paying the price for that loyalty now?

MINISTER BILLSON:

That may be one take on it. They are good qualities that people stick with those that stick with them. I think a lot of people would like collegiality of that character in their life and then that is, I would have thought, a positive quality.

JON FAINE:

Ex-Prime Ministers on the backbench have a somewhat corrosive influence. Paul Keating, Kevin Rudd, it is not a precedent that you really want to follow is it?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well, the Prime Minister is a different character to those two individuals and even though…

JON FAINE:

Sorry, the ex-Prime Minister you mean?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Thank you, Malcolm hasn't been sworn in yet. Tony Abbott is a different character to the two that you spoke about and the mark of his quality was his response to the Party Room last night where he made it clear that this was a very emotional and difficult time for him – but in respecting the decision of the colleagues he would bring his support in behind Prime Minister elect Turnbull and contribute…

JON FAINE:

Do you expect Tony Abbott to stay in the Parliament and serve in the Ministry with Malcolm Turnbull?

MINISTER BILLSON:

We didn't speak about that and that is something you should speak to Tony Abbott about…

JON FAINE:

I have tried; it is not possible yet this morning.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Well it is not my place to talk about what he is thinking. He must be a difficult morning and understandably quite raw and above all, I mean, you have seen it Jon, just the complete selflessness with which Tony Abbott's thrown himself into the work as Opposition Leader and as Prime Minister.

There was a lovely tribute to him amongst the many positive remarks and statements of gratitude for his service to our nation and our party and also an acknowledgement to Margie and his girls just for the contribution and the sacrifice that family has made.

But the Prime Minister made it clear that he respects the processes of our Party Room and the judgement of his peers and that Prime Minister elect Turnbull can count on his support as Prime Minister elect Turnbull can count on mine and I think that is the general view that was expressed once the decision had been made by the colleagues.

JON FAINE:

Good luck with the shuffle, we will see what happens. Thank you for taking our call today. Bruce Billson.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Thanks very much.