Scott Morrison says the South Australian Liberal senator Lucy Gichuhi has told him she was not bullied by anyone in Canberra during the government’s leadership crisis, and he says no names of any perpetrators had been provided to him.
While Gichuhi suggested clearly last week that she had been bullied – a suggestion that was validated implicitly by the minister for women, Kelly O’Dwyer, who said government MPs had been intimidated – Morrison told the ABC on Tuesday night the South Australian senator “told me very plainly that she was not bullied by anybody here in Canberra” during the leadership contest.
The prime minister met Gichuhi privately after she signalled she was prepared to name names with the protection of parliamentary privilege. Gichuhi confirmed the conversation earlier on Tuesday, and said Morrison had “taken up the issue”.
Morrison said politics was a very “torrid” business, and his inquiries to date had not yielded evidence of “gender specific actions” in relation to what some people would characterise as “very intense lobbying which is fairly normal in the political process, albeit not edifying”.
He acknowledged there were some issues relating “to the party divisions and how things are dealt with there”, but he gave no detail.
The prime minister also said he would not support quotas being adopted in the Liberal party to boost female representation in parliament – an idea that has been floated by Liberals Sussan Ley and Craig Laundy.
He said that determination was “a matter for the organisational wing of the Liberal party but [quotas are] never something I have supported”.
Even though there is ample evidence that quotas boost the level of female representation both in public and corporate life, Morrison said “I don’t believe quotas are the way you remove obstacles”.
He said he was focused on removing obstacles to women getting preselected.
“It’s a matter of supporting women throughout the preselection process, to identify, encourage, support and recruit and then to support them through that process, and then when they get into parliament ensure they’re getting the support they need to do the job,” he said.
Morrison was also pressed again to explain why Malcolm Turnbull was no longer the prime minister, given he was a strong defender of the government’s record, and argues he didn’t actively seek the top job.
The prime minister has tried to move the questioning on from the leadership implosion, and on Tuesday night he said the government was focused on the future. He said the government had been preoccupied with managing things, but further explanation was now required. “What’s important in politics is that people also understand the why’s behind the what.”
Even though opinion polls suggest Australian voters are disconcerted by yet another leadership coup, and the Coalition would lose any election held today, the prime minister suggested voters were “disappointed” but now used to the turbulence.
“I think, sadly, over the last 10 years there have been too many of these changes, on both sides of politics and, I don’t think Australians are as shocked by these things as they used to be,” Morrison said. “They are disappointed.”
The prime minister also struggled to explain the government’s position on climate and energy policy. Asked what the government’s climate policy was, Morrison replied: “Reducing emissions by 26%.”
Asked to nominate a policy to drive the emissions reduction, Morrison identified the emissions reduction fund, which was not given any additional funding in the last budget. He suggested further measures would be forthcoming but gave no detail.
Morrison declared the government had not changed its emissions reduction policy, but the government on Monday took a decision to dump the national energy guarantee, a policy that would have imposed an emissions reduction target for the electricity sector of 26% by 2030.
The prime minister has said since taking the top job that Australia will not dump the Paris climate commitment to reduce emissions across the economy by 26%. However, in ditching the Neg the government has removed a concrete policy roadmap to drive the emissions reduction.
The government does not have policies to drive emissions reduction in sectors of the economy where emissions are currently rising.
The Energy Security Board has predicted that emissions in the electricity sector will be 24% lower by 2021 courtesy of a big build of renewable energy pulled through by the renewable energy target, which is also contributing to lower wholesale prices.
But the ESB has said electricity will not reach a 26% reduction in the absence of the Neg.
Even if the the ESB projections are wrong, and the electricity sector managed to reduce emissions by 26% with no policy to drive that result, the Paris target Australia has signed up to applies across the economy, not just to the electricity sector, and the government’s own data shows emissions in other sectors of the economy are rising.