Malcolm Turnbull has slapped down the prospect of Tony Abbott returning to the ministry, as both he and Bill Shorten talk to crossbenchers who could determine their fate in a hung parliament.
“I am not proposing to bring back any particular individuals,” Turnbull told a news conference when asked about the pressure to put Abbott on the frontbench.
His hard line will further anger conservatives in his party, who are already starting to flex their muscles after the election debacle. The push for Abbott’s post-election return began during the campaign. But the belief in Turnbull quarters is that Abbott is toxic in the electorate.
Abbott kept his comments on Sunday careful, though they were pointed. Asked whether he would have won if he had been leader, he said: “I just won’t speculate on that. That is for people to reflect upon.”
He said there were “a lot of people who have got much to reflect upon as a result of what has happened”.
“It is not for me to start trying to sum up a long and difficult campaign,” he said.
“All we can do today is take stock, think, reflect, rather than just come out with a whole lot of snap judgements. I certainly won’t come out with snap judgements.”
Conservative senator Cory Bernardi said the election had been “a disaster for the Liberal Party. It shows that treating our base with contempt or dismissing their concerns in favour of Labor-lite policy has very real consequences.
“The conservative revolution will either begin within the Liberal Party in an attempt to save it, or will manifest itself outside the Liberal Party,” Bernardi said. There had been a small taste of the latter on Saturday, he said.
Turnbull continued to say he was “quietly confident” the Coalition would reach a majority in its own right. Turnbull said the postal and other votes still to be counted were likely to favour the Coalition.
Despite Turnbull’s prediction, a hung parliament is equally likely, with about a dozen seats in doubt.
Turnbull and Shorten confirmed they had spoken to some of the lower house crossbenchers, as each leader is anxious to open lines of communication in the event of a hung parliament.
Turnbull spoke to independents Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan and to Nick Xenophon, leader of the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT). The NXT has won three Senate seats in South Australia and one lower house seat.
Xenophon said a hung parliament was “increasingly likely”, but would not say which side his team would favour. “We will support the side that can form a stable government and that can listen to us in respect of key concerns which we think reflect the wishes of middle Australia.”
The NXT is also in the hunt for the SA Liberal seat of Grey which Xenophon described as being on a “knife-edge”.
Shorten dismissed speculation in Labor circles that he could face a leadership challenge from Anthony Albanese. The leadership is automatically open after a defeat. “For myself, I have never been more certain of my leadership,” he said.
Both leaders played down the possibility of another election.
Saying he had spoken to some crossbenchers, Shorten said: “They want to be constructive, they don’t want Australia rushing back to the polls, I certainly don’t. I think we owe it to the Australian people to make the decision of the Australian people work.”
Turnbull said: “We are committed to ensuring that the parliament, as elected, will work effectively and constructively for the Australian people.”
Turnbull sought to reassure people ahead of the hiatus before a definite result is known.
“While the count will take a number of days, probably until the end of next week, I can promise all Australians that we will dedicate our efforts to ensuring that the state of the new parliament is resolved without division or rancour. The expectation is on all of us, especially me as prime minister, to get on with the job.”
When the count was completed the Coalition would work constructively “to ensure that we have a strong majority government and we will work across the crossbenchers as well, if we need to do so”, Turnbull said.
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra