Speaking of the spill

By Chris Thomson | posted on August 30, 2018

FEDERAL MP Rick Wilson says an “air of tragedy” pervaded the party room meeting that secured the ultimate political ascension of Scott Morrison last week.

Mr Wilson, who offered himself for an interview with The Weekender, also slammed big media assertions that he voted for Peter Dutton over Mr Morrison to replace Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister.

The member for O’Connor, whose sprawling electorate takes in the Great Southern, confirmed he voted for Mr Dutton when on August 21 the prime ministerial contender failed by just seven votes to oust Mr Turnbull.

“I didn’t think the vote would get up,” he explained.

“That [vote] was a game changer because once it was revealed the prime minister’s support was that weak it kicked off a series of events.”

Mr Wilson said he voted initially for Mr Dutton because he believed Mr Turnbull needed to be sent a message about concerns raised the week before in the Liberals’ party room about the national energy guarantee.

“I was one of the dozen who expressed my concerns about the national energy guarantee, particularly the move to legislate the 26 per cent [greenhouse emissions reduction] target [for the energy sector], because I saw that as a real threat to my constituents,” he said.

“I was dismayed when the prime minister then walked out of the party room and said he had party room support – he might have had a majority of the party room but he plainly did not have consensus or unanimous support, which is effectively what you need in the party room.”

Mr Wilson said that not long after the spill he told a provincial journalist of a big media chain that he supported Mr Turnbull.

“I said: ‘Yes we just had a vote, the prime minister won the vote, so of course I support the prime minister’,” he explained.

That evening, news of the first of 13 ministerial resignations started to filter through.

“On Wednesday, in question time, we had ministers who had offered their resignations and those resignations had not been accepted by the prime minister,” Mr Wilson recounted.

“Those ministers were being asked … whether they had confidence in the prime minister and it was excruciating to watch them [try to] justify the fact they had offered their resignation but they still had confidence in the prime minister.

“Nearly all of us sitting there thought this was a situation that could not go on.”

Mr Wilson recalled that after Mr Dutton saw Mr Turnbull to request a second leadership spill, the then prime minister asked to see a letter signed by the majority of the party room before agreeing.

“This was not Liberal Party convention,” Mr Wilson explained.

“In previous leadership spills there have been as little as two people sign a letter asking for a spill.

“I think things had deteriorated to the point that we needed a change of leadership, so I was one of the 43 that signed the letter.”

He said that after Mr Turnbull agreed not to contest a second leadership vote “three outstanding candidates [Mr Dutton, Mr Morrison and WA-based Julie Bishop], any of whom would have made an excellent Prime Minister” threw their hats into the ring.

Mr Wilson declined to say how he voted in the second party room poll, and said big media reports that he voted for Mr Dutton were purely speculative as he had told nobody how he voted.

He said that, with Mr Turnbull in the party room but not running for the top job, the atmosphere was electric.

“It was very tense, it was traumatic,” he said.

“Nobody wanted to see the situation get to where it had with a cascading series of events that spiralled out of control … and I think there was an air of sadness and tragedy.

“I don’t think anybody in the Liberal Party thought three-and-a-half years ago that we’d be in a situation where we would be swapping prime ministers like the Labor Party had done in their term.”

Mr Wilson said that whoever had won the three-way vote would have made an “excellent” prime minister.

“I am extremely happy that Scott Morrison has got up and won, and the reason that I lost confidence in the prime minister was the fact that I didn’t think we could win the next election under his leadership,” he added.

“I’ve got great faith in Scott.

“I think he’s a great campaigner who’s someone who’s going to lead us in a campaign and give us the motivation and encouragement and the leadership to win the 2019 election and that’s the main reason I voted for change.”