Laura Jayes: Andrew Robb, thank you very much for your time. There has been a bit of speculation about who you voted for; who did you vote for?
Andrew Robb: I voted for Tony Abbott. He had given me some great responsibilities and he backed them himself – the negotiations – so I owed him the loyalty in that regard and he has been a long-time friend as well so that is where I finished up.
Laura Jayes: I appreciate your loyalty but do you think Malcolm Turnbull is the best direction for the party?
Andrew Robb: The party has made that decision and from my experience the Party Room is sacrosanct; that’s in the end where all of us are ultimately judged and are held accountable, and certainly the leader. The party has made quite a decisive decision and I respect that 100 per cent; they seldom make mistakes and I do think that the way it has all been conducted and the gracious way that Tony said he will conduct himself – all of these things suggest we will lock in – we all have to lock in – to develop the unity and the sense of purpose that will carry us through to the next election.
Laura Jayes: The Prime Minister did make a point of saying that there was disloyalty, there was white-anting of his leadership; there was backgrounding against him. Do you agree with that assessment?
Andrew Robb: Well clearly there has been some of that.
Laura Jayes: But is that just the nature of politics or was it something different this time around?
Andrew Robb: I think he made some fairly pertinent comments about people being reported who don’t declare who they are publically, and that has always been around, but it seems to be far more the order of the day these days compared with 15 or 20 years ago. Usually 15 to 20 years ago you could pick who it was, and that sort of thing can be debilitating. I think the media has also a responsibility to put the pressure on sources; to have them declare themselves because government is very important and the Prime Ministership is extremely important, and it’s more than a game and sometimes you feel people are enjoying the game – all the participants – and not focusing on the deep responsibilities that we have as parliamentarians to improve the lot of all Australians.
Laura Jayes: Malcolm Turnbull made the point yesterday saying that the economic rhetoric, the economic message was not getting through, that Australians were not on board with it. Does the message have to change or does the strategy have to change as well?
Andrew Robb: Well for whatever reason – and there are a whole lot of reasons – the message was not getting through, and now we’ve got a new messenger and there will be some new entrants to our advocacy role and let’s hope that will be effective. That is what the Party Room has decided, that we had had a lot of polls in a row which were not good. In the end the polling is our share price and if it’s down low enough and long enough then there’s almost a responsibility on those that can hold the leadership responsible, to do something and they’ve done something.
Laura Jayes: If polling is your share price, how long does Malcolm Turnbull then have to turn this around? I mean because it is poll to poll, we do focus on the polls, and you can often do these types of interviews and someone like yourself might say ‘we’re not taking any notice of the polls; the only poll that counts is the one on election day’, but that’s not true is it? The polls will need to improve for Malcolm Turnbull won’t they?
Andrew Robb: We are less than 12 months away from an election so obviously we have to become competitive and we have to get close to a winning position – if not a winning position – by the time the campaign starts; I am very confident. Malcolm is a powerful communicator; he is a powerful force and I do feel he will inject a lot of confidence about the future. There is every good reason for confidence about the future; I mean what is going on in our region is just spectacular.
Laura Jayes: And that is under your portfolio area as well so you’d fully expect to stay in your role as Trade and Investment Minister wouldn’t you?
Andrew Robb: Well I would like to; I’ve got a lot of unfinished work to do. There’s a lot that can be still done in the region, but in the end that’s the prerogative of the Prime Minister, so I will take what I’m offered.
Laura Jayes: Mr Robb what do you make of the argument though that some Howard-era ministers need to perhaps be shifted out for some of the new guard to come in – not yourself – but perhaps some of your colleagues?
Andrew Robb: I think people should be judged on their performance.
Laura Jayes: There’s a lot to be said for a new guard though isn’t there?
Andrew Robb: I think we have an unbelievably powerful backbench; I think the future is looking very good, not just for a few years, but for 15 or 20 years. You need a mix always, but we do need people coming through, and we’ve only been in government for two years for goodness sake, and quite a few in that time have got higher, and there will be a lot more introduced, and I think there would have been after the next election even under Tony Abbott. I know when I was that age I was impatient, and I think it’s a good thing to be; you want people who are impatient about getting on, so that’s understandable, but at the same time if the people that have been around have got some scars on their back, that’s a good thing but they’ve got to be performing and they’ve got to have energy and as long as that’s happening I think you should get that mix right.
Laura Jayes: Just one final question; there was white hot anger last night among Tony Abbott’s supporters about how this had gone down, and I think there’s a lot of ill feeling in the party today; that will take time to heal I accept that, but what do you say to fellow Tony Abbott supporters out there, who are feeling that white hot anger about going forward and any kind of chance of destabilising Malcolm Turnbull?
Andrew Robb: My sense is that there’s a lot of deep bruising amongst a lot of people – they’ve got to work through that; I understand that. But in these circumstances they’ve got to respect the verdict of the Party Room; that’s where we’re all accountable in the end, and I do feel that it’s quite critical that we lock in; we’ve got less than 12 months; we’ve made the change; we’ve got a very good record of things that have been done and there’s a lot more to do. We can be in a very competitive position; we have to be – Bill Shorten will frighten everybody if he got the opportunity to be Prime Minister, so we’ve got to lock-in; we’ve got to show unity and we’ve got to show energy and we’ve got to show hope for the future.
Laura Jayes: Just finally, do we need change in the party arm? Should Brian Loughnane stay or go?
Andrew Robb: All of those things are up to Brian and others to work through. He’s been a very powerful strategist for us for many years, and has done a great job so that’s something for he and the leader to work through.
Laura Jayes: Minister Andrew Robb, thank you.
Andrew Robb: My pleasure.
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