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Abbott on his new opponent -

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Broadcast: 25/06/2010

Reporter: Kerry O'Brien

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott speaks with Kerry O'Brien following a dramatic couple of days in
Canberra that saw Kevin Rudd ousted by Julia Gillard.


KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: Tony Abbott has wasted no time going after the new prime minister. He
knows time is now of the essence, and that while the election may not come until late in the year,
it could also be called in the next month or two, probably depending on the polls. The Opposition
Leader joins me now.

Tony Abbott, you displayed a fine sense of the dramatic in Parliament when you described how, in
your terms, Kevin Rudd was executed after a midnight knock at the door, designed I assume to
conjure up images of Stalinist Russia or something like it, but in truth it wasn't a midnight knock
at all. That was hyperbole. And your party has dispatched not one, but two leaders in this
parliamentary term as well - Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull. Isn't it incredibly hypocritical
to try to take the high moral ground?

TONY ABBOTT, OPPOSITION LEADER: No, Kerry - for two reasons. First of all, I became leader because
of a policy difference, and second, there is no equivalent on our side of politics of the Sussex
Street death squads which are now stalking the Labor Party.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Death squads. Execution, death squads, Stalinist knocks at the door.

TONY ABBOTT: Kerry, they execute leaders who they don't like. It was as if Paul Howes was on
Lateline the other night saying, "I determine, or my union determines, who leads the Labor Party
and the circumstances under which they lead."

KERRY O'BRIEN: In fact there are some clear similarities between the departures of Turnbull and
Rudd. Both alienated significant members in their party with their autocratic style; both came into
conflict within their party over policy. Let me demonstrate how similar by playing back your own
words on the day you became leader.

TONY ABBOTT: I have said to my colleagues that I will do my best to be a consultative and collegial

Political parties don't work when people just announce what they're doing and expect everyone else
to follow.

I will not be that kind of a leader.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Now, that sounds remarkably similar to me, and I wonder again if your own hands and
your colleagues are clean enough for you to be so holier-than-thou than Labor.

TONY ABBOTT: Kerry, that was all about policy. I became the leader and I immediately changed a

KERRY O'BRIEN: But hang on ...

TONY ABBOTT: My turn. Julia Gillard ...

KERRY O'BRIEN: Why are you talking about being more collegiate than Malcolm Turnbull?

TONY ABBOTT: Julia Gillard becomes leader and doesn't change anything. In fact, she was the
co-author of all the policies which got Kevin Rudd into trouble.

KERRY O'BRIEN: She's been there 24 hours.

TONY ABBOTT: No, but, she was the Deputy PM. She was on a unity ticket - she was on a unity ticket
with Kevin Rudd for more than three years. Now she's trying to suggest that she wasn't there when
the policies, the dud policies were decided. She was the co-author of all the dud policies.

KERRY O'BRIEN: She has acknowledged that she was there. She has acknowledged that she was there.
But what I'm talking to you ...

TONY ABBOTT: But, you see ....

KERRY O'BRIEN: You can certainly come to that, but what you've done is move past the point I made
to you. Malcolm Turnbull's dispatch by you and others was not just about policy, it was about his
autocratic style.

TONY ABBOTT: It was about the policy. I would have been very happy to keep the leader, but change
the policy. They should have dumped their bad policy and kept the leader.

KERRY O'BRIEN: I'll say again: the similarities are these: his style was under serious attack
within your party. Wasn't Malcolm Turnbull - didn't Malcolm Turnbull alienate many people in your
party to the extent that you became leader, you challenged, you beat him, with factional
heavyweights organising your numbers, as factional heavyweights organised numbers for Julia Gillard
and you then took the podium and you said, "I will be more collegial. I will consult"?

TONY ABBOTT: That was a difference over policy; this is just a difference over personalities. And
the point is: she was the co-author of the dud policies. What they've done is they've dumped the
salesman, but they haven't changed the product.

KERRY O'BRIEN: The fact is that both major parties can be equally ruthless in dispatching their
leaders when they - when it suits. I'll move on or we'll just keep going round in circles. I'm sure
that you've already put a lot of thought into how you'll tackle Julia Gillard - a very different
person to Kevin Rudd, even though you clearly will continue to tie her in with his policies. Fair

TONY ABBOTT: Well if she changes the policies, that's fine, Kerry, and her three challenges are to
change three of the big dud policies. She's got to stop the boats, she's gotta end the school hall
rip-offs and she's gotta dump the tax. Now I don't think she'll do any of those three things, but
that would be the real test of leadership on her part - if she can sort these problems out.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Now you've said she's got to dump the tax, but what if she comes to an agreement
with the mining companies on a compromised tax formula? Aren't you then left floating?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, there is no good way to fix a thoroughly bad tax. There can't be retrospectivity
because that's unconscionable to change the game after the investment has been made. And there
can't be any change which leaves our industry uncompetitive with the rest of the world. But what
means is that there can't be a net increase in revenue. But she needs the extra revenue to fund her
spending spree and to balance her budget.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But what you know, Mr Abbott, what has been made clear by the previous prime
minister and by the Treasurer that - is that if there is a reduction in revenue from the mining tax
then there will be an equivalent reduction in spending from those programs tied to the mining tax
like the super savings, like spending on - in particular spending on infrastructure, like cuts in
the company tax. So that won't affect the budget.

TONY ABBOTT: Well, what she is trying to pretend is that she can make these sorts of changes, but
she can't make changes unless she's prepared to end the Labor spending spree.

KERRY O'BRIEN: You are already attacking Julia Gillard's credibility as Prime Minister, but didn't
you destroy your own credibility in our last interview when you tried to explain how sometimes you
speak the gospel truth and sometimes you don't? For instance, were you shooting from the lip when
you spoke to colleagues in your party room on Tuesday about your chances at the next election or
were you reading from a written script?

TONY ABBOTT: Look, Kerry, I change my mind sometimes. I try to be upfront with people. That's the
way I am. Always have been that way; always will be that way. But Julia Gillard, Kerry, she said
just last Friday that Kevin Rudd would get two full terms. This week she didn't even allow him one
full term.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Didn't you also support Malcolm Fraser - Malcolm Fraser! Malcolm Turnbull before he
was bumped off as leader?

TONY ABBOTT: Look, let's ...

KERRY O'BRIEN: Well, is that true?

TONY ABBOTT: Kerry, in the end the Australian people will make a judgment and I am very happy to
put my credibility on the line against Julia Gillard, who this week presumably is sailing around
the world, going to Mars and playing full forward for one of the Melbourne footy clubs, because
they were all the things she would do before she got rid of the leader.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Well, let's come to back to your credibility then if you're happy to test it.
There's confusion about what you really told your party room on Tuesday. According to the official
Liberal Party room briefer to journalists, a senior lawyer who one might expect to be pretty good
with the facts on detail, you said, according to him, "Victory is within our grasp. We are within
reach of a famous victory."

TONY ABBOTT: Yeah, yeah. That wasn't all I said. That wasn't all I said.

KERRY O'BRIEN: So you did say that?

TONY ABBOTT: But that wasn't all I said. And the fact of the matter is no election is unwinnable.
No election is unlosable. I've always been the underdog and I expect to continue to be the
underdog, but I've gotta say this: we will put up a very good fight.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But you did say that. So you're confirming that you did say those words: "Victory is
within our grasp. We are within reach of a famous victory."

TONY ABBOTT: There is no doubt we must have been within reach of a famous victory, otherwise the
Labor Party would not have dumped their leader in a fit of panic about its prospects.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But do you accept that right through the campaign these words are going to come back
to haunt you about what is gospel truth, something that you will read from a prepared text and
whenever you're shooting from the hip, as we are in this interview?

TONY ABBOTT: Look, Kerry, Kerry, you had a good night with me a few weeks ago.

KERRY O'BRIEN: This isn't about me having good nights with you, Mr Abbott; this is about your

TONY ABBOTT: But the point is, Kerry, I will let the Australian public make a judgment about me.
That's what happens in politics. But I tell you what: the Labor Party made a judgment about me this
week. They made a judgment that if they stayed with Kevin Rudd, they were gonna lose.


TONY ABBOTT: That was a judgment about the effectiveness of this Opposition.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And tell me this: if you were in their position, if this was your party and you
could see, in your terms, that you were going to lose with your leader, wouldn't you want to change
that leader?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, I wouldn't want to do the kind of political assassination which has now become
stock-in- trade of the Labor Party. I wouldn't want to bring the Sussex Street style, which has
been so responsible for the Government of NSW becoming a stinking patronage machine, down here to
Canberra. The national government is too important for that, Kerry.

KERRY O'BRIEN: So if you were a member of a party that you felt your leader was gonna lose the
election, you'd remove them gently?

TONY ABBOTT: Look, I think I have a record of only wanting to see change done for serious reasons.
The big difference between what happened in our party seven months ago and what happened in the
Labor Party this week is that ours was done for an honourable reason; an honest disagreement over
policy. This was done purely because the Labor Party was worried that our critique of its policies
was right.

KERRY O'BRIEN: OK. We're close to time. Close to time and I want to get one more question in, and
I'll acknowledge in advance it's hypothetical, but I'm hoping it's one you can answer, or will
answer. If you were in Julia Gillard's shoes right now and you see a spike in the polls, and three
weeks from now you see that spike sustained, would you call an election?

TONY ABBOTT: Look I think there's no doubt that the powerbrokers that installed Julia Gillard want
to get a boost in the polls and then rush to an election in the honeymoon. They're hoping to trick
people that this is a different government, but it's the same government with the same dud policies
and the only way to change the policies is to change the government, not the leader.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Tony Abbott, thanks for talking with us.

TONY ABBOTT: Thankyou, Kerry.