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Opposition Senator reacts to the dismissal of Dr John Hewson from the Shadow Ministry and comments on his conduct

MONICA ATTARD: Well, the ripples in the Liberal Party over John Hewson's sacking have spread as far as Western Australia. Liberal Senator, Sue Knowles, was Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs under Dr Hewson's leadership, but she was moved to the backbench when Mr Downer took over. Senator Knowles told Katie Cronin she's stunned by the news and that many of her colleagues have phoned her to say they feel the same way.

SUSAN KNOWLES: I'm absolutely stunned because I believe that someone of John's capability is desperately needed in the Liberal Party. He's the second-longest serving leader that the Liberal Party has had and I think that he deserves to be treated better.

KATIE CRONIN: So Alexander Downer has made a mistake?

SUSAN KNOWLES: Well, I don't know why he's been sacked. I mean, there are an awful lot of frontbenchers who have spoken out on issues in the past, who've been unable to handle their portfolios, and they haven't been sacked. And I am yet to know why John has been sacked.

KATIE CRONIN: Has anyone given you an explanation?

SUSAN KNOWLES: No. No, because there has been no explanation and I, in fact, asked whether or not it was because John thought to defend himself against the attack of Chris Miles, and I understand that that wasn't even the reason.

KATIE CRONIN: I gather that there has been concern about John Hewson's statements going back as far as the day that the new portfolios were handed out after the leadership change. Could it go back that far, the animosity, perhaps?

SUSAN KNOWLES: I really do not know. All I know is what John has said to me over an extended period of time since that, or in the entire time since the change, and that was that he was going to do his industry portfolio to the very best of his ability because it was something that he enjoyed and it is something where he thought he could use his skills to the betterment of the Liberal Party, and that was all he wanted to do. He threw himself into it, in the midst, I might add, of great personal crisis for John and Carolyn, and he was determined to do the job well, and that's all I know first hand from him.

KATIE CRONIN: Has he played any role, though, in trying to perhaps destabilise Alexander Downer?

SUSAN KNOWLES: No. Quite the reverse. In fact, John was over in Perth only last week and I met with him, as did a number of other colleagues, and it was the way in which we could go about to make sure that we could win the next election. And there was absolutely no talk whatsoever of undermining Alex, and in fact, quite the reverse. And he thought, as a senior Shadow Minister, that it was important that he keep in touch with colleagues and he made sure that he did that, to make sure that we could take measures to win the next election.

KATIE CRONIN: Well, as a result of what's happened today, do you retain confidence in Mr Downer?

SUSAN KNOWLES: Well, I mean, I'd just like to know what has happened. I just find the whole thing absolutely remarkable. Why, in leadership terms, people aren't sacked for misdemeanours and incompetence, I don't know. And why someone is sacked for no reason at all, is a mystery, and until such time as I know that, then I'm absolutely at a loss for words.

KATIE CRONIN: It couldn't be that Mr Downer saw Dr Hewson as a threat to his authority?

SUSAN KNOWLES: I wish I understood his reasoning. I really don't know.

KATIE CRONIN: Well, just yesterday, there was a letter published by Dr Hewson to Chris Miles, I think, saying that the Liberals ought to consider supporting the Federal Government's legislation on gay laws in Tasmania. I mean, could that have tilted the balance?

SUSAN KNOWLES: Well, I understand that that has not tilted the balance and has been expressly denied by Alex in doing so. And if that is the case, why in fact wasn't Chris Miles the one to go because he, for some unreasonable reason, I don't know, it flummoxes me, suddenly dredges up old statements of John's and distributes them. I can't understand, and surely anyone, whether it's John Hewson or anybody else has an inalienable right to defend themselves, and that's all John did.

KATIE CRONIN: Could Alexander Downer simply have wanted to be seen to be doing something decisive?

SUSAN KNOWLES: I don't know. It may well have been, but I think there are plenty of other good examples that could have been used other than someone who's served the party as long and hard as John has in senior portfolios and the leadership, in such a determined and professional manner.

KATIE CRONIN: You're obviously quite unhappy about what's happened. Do you think that many of your colleagues are going to feel the same way?

SUSAN KNOWLES: I know that many of my colleagues have felt the same way because I can tell you that my phone hasn't stopped since it's happened and people are just absolutely outraged.

KATIE CRONIN: So it's no good for Mr Downer's position in the party?

SUSAN KNOWLES: I don't know. I mean, that'll be a decision that'll be taken, I suppose, when things cool down. I just wish that the Liberal Party could get on and win elections and stop all of this nonsense and focus on the main game, and that's the Labor Party.

MONICA ATTARD: Western Australian Liberal Senator, Sue Knowles.