Leigh Sales: Joining me now from Canberra is the Trade Minister, Andrew Robb; thanks for coming in Mr Robb.

Andrew Robb: My pleasure, Leigh.

Leigh Sales: You didn't vote for Malcolm Turnbull on Monday night. You were also instrumental in his removal as Opposition Leader in 2009; what are your reservations about him?

Andrew Robb: Well I didn't vote for him on Monday night because of loyalty to Tony Abbott. Tony had given me a lot of support after I had a problem with depression several years ago, and subsequently with the major trade responsibilities. He not only did that, but he supported me greatly in terms of fulfilling those ambitions with the three Free Trade Agreements; he played a very big part in the role he had with the leaders. So I felt I owed him that, but I've respected and known Malcolm since the mid-eighties. In fact I first worked with Malcolm on a project in the mid-eighties. We've been friends for a long time.

Leigh Sales: You haven't always been friends though, have you?

Andrew Robb: We had a year or two which was a little bit frosty. But that's been patched up long ago and I've got enormous respect for him and I think he will weld the team in a way which will really make us very, very competitive.

Leigh Sales: You've made it clear that you stuck with Tony Abbott for reasons of loyalty. I'm wondering, that aside, whether or not you think that Malcolm Turnbull is actually the better person to lead you forward into the election?

Andrew Robb: Well, my experience over too many years in fact, is that the view of the Party Room in the end is sacrosanct. That is the ultimate area of accountability for all of us, but particularly the leader of the party. And the Party Room – in a democratic way – was given the choice. They made a decisive decision; I seldom believe they make wrong decisions and I very strongly support the view of the Party Room and I think the mood around the place is such that everyone is putting their other ambitions aside or other views and do feel that we have a very significant opportunity to keep going, keep presenting good government and be very competitive coming into the next election.

Leigh Sales: Among the Abbott loyalists to whom I've spoken, a lot of the anger seems directed at Julie Bishop. Do you believe Julie Bishop did act as a loyal deputy?

Andrew Robb: Well, I don't want to get into that. Julie went to speak to Tony before he called a spill; I don't think she suggested he do it, she just indicated what the circumstances were. But, Julie has been eight years I think now as Deputy under various leaders, and I do feel that she has done an exceptional job, not only in her portfolio, but she has worked herself to the bone with helping colleagues and all the sorts of things that deputies should do.

Leigh Sales: In terms of this, if we can stick specifically to these events though, when do you believe that the move to unseat Tony Abbott began in earnest?

Andrew Robb: I don't know.

Leigh Sales: Did anybody - when did people first approach you about who you would be willing to vote for?

Andrew Robb: Well, never frankly.

Leigh Sales: So nobody tried to woo your vote away from Tony Abbott?

Andrew Robb: No, no-one did. I did strongly support him in February and I felt then that if we had moved at that stage, people hadn't seen any lead up to it and that we would just look like revolving chairs and look like a clone of the Labor Party. I feel it's quite different this time; there has been a lead-up to it. Tony has done his absolute best; we have a whole raft of achievements which we should all be very proud of, but the narrative was not cutting through. The Party Room has decided that they've got to take some action and ultimately they are responsible for accountability of the leaders.

Leigh Sales: One quick last question on this; one of the triggers for the leadership crisis was a newspaper story that named you as somebody that would be pushed out of cabinet by the Prime Minister. Do you believe that there was any truth in that story?

Andrew Robb: No.

Leigh Sales: Do you believe it was leaked by the Prime Minister's office?

Andrew Robb: Well there was 24 hours of endless analysis of where that came from. Over 30 years – including 10 nearly as leader of the party in the campaign sense – there have been hundreds of leaks. I can't recall any that we ever got to the bottom of, and Friday was another example of that.

Leigh Sales: You have been trying to get on with business as usual, introducing the enabling legislation for the China Free Trade Agreement into the Parliament today. Does having Malcolm Turnbull instead of Tony Abbott give you any additional chance of getting that through?

Andrew Robb: No, I don't think that will influence the prospect of getting it through. They've both been very strong advocates in the last few weeks in terms of the case we're making. I think Bill Shorten is now totally isolated along with the CFMEU and he's becoming inextricably linked to the thugs in the CFMEU, which I think is very dangerous for Bill Shorten. I don't know anyone else in the community, including the avalanche of Labor luminaries who've come out, and John Black again tonight – another former Labor senator – who was scathing about the tactics and the positioning of Labor. When you think how moralistic they are about so many issues, here they are supporting the most reprehensible union in the country, full of people who've got criminal charges that they're being explored for, who are tied to the bikies, who control 15 per cent of the drug trade. It's outrageous.

Leigh Sales: Just to bring it back to the prospects for the Free Trade Agreement to get through: I mean, what's your strategy though at this point? Is it simply just to keep that pressure up on Labor because if they don't budge, then you're not going to be able to get it through.

Andrew Robb: Well it's still got two months before it really gets to the Senate just because of the way sittings are going to play out in the next few weeks. So there's a long way to go yet. I think it's very important for us to maintain the pressure because what is happening is that literally dozens of organisations are coming out; the major business groups, but lots of other organisations involved with services and social services and all the rest, who see the enormous opportunity; the tens of thousands of jobs that are going to stem from this; the relationship; the contribution to peace in the region; the enhanced commercial relationship that this will drive; all of those things are becoming obvious to the population.

So every day we go past, people are finding out what's at stake; what's in the agreement; the great breadth and depth of this agreement. It is the best agreement either country has done with any other country. So we are in a very privileged position. The opportunities are enormous and Labor are just snubbing their nose at this and they will pay a big price.

Leigh Sales: Minister we're out of time unfortunately. Thank you very much for joining me this evening.

Andrew Robb: Thanks very much, Leigh.


Media enquiries

  • Trade Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7420
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555