Turnbull: ‘Morrison should call early election’
Malcolm Turnbull has unleashed in a frank radio interview, calling on Scott Morrison to hold an early election.
The former prime minister has also denied encouraging Victorian MP Julia Banks to quit the Liberal Party last week, a move which further imperilled Mr Morrison's capacity to pass laws in the next six months before an election.
Mr Turnbull did not deny reports that he said Mr Morrison's request for the party to re-endorse all sitting MPs - primarily to save Liberal firebrand Craig Kelly, who has threatened to move to the crossbench - was simply about "keeping his arse in C1 [the Prime Ministerial limousine] for as long as possible".
"I've not made any accusations against the prime minister," Mr Turnbull told ABC radio today, saying Mr Morrison's goal was "plainly" to "stay in government for as long as he possibly can".
He added: "I have not bad mouthed the Prime Minister. I have given Scott Morrison considerable support and I've given him considerable advice."
Mr Turnbull's explosive intervention in Australian politics comes as Mr Morrison flies home from the G20 world leaders summit for the final sitting week of 2018.
Mr Turnbull urged his successor to call the federal election in March to save the NSW Berejiklian government from copping voters' anger about the leadership spill to oust him, which contributed to a defeat for the Liberals at the Victorian state election last month.
"My view - I'm a retired member of parliament, just a member of the Liberal Party, but since everyone else feels free to express their political commentary, I shall do so - my view is that it would be manifestly in the best interests and prospects of the Morrison Government to go to the polls as soon as it can after the summer break," Mr Turnbull said.
"In fact, my intention and Scott's intention for that matter prior to my being removed as prime minister was to go to the polls on March 2, which is exactly three weeks before the NSW state election.
"Morrison has got to judge the right timing for an election.
"There is a real concern in NSW Liberal circles that a very good, outstanding government led by Gladys Berejiklian is going to have its prospects of success diminished because of the brand damage to the Liberal Party caused by the leadership change in August."
He added that his call yesterday for a democratic preselection process for Mr Kelly in the seat of Hughes was not about retribution for the spill, but noted that it had been "a destructive, mad and pointless exercise".
He said for Mr Morrison to give into any threat from Mr Kelly that he would 'bring down the government' by going to the crossbench was "extraordinary".
"What Mr Morrison should be doing, if Mr Kelly has made that threat, is to stand up to him and say 'well, if you want to go to the crossbench and create trouble, that's your responsibility."
The Daily Telegraph reported Mr Turnbull called moderates on the NSW state executive and urged them to defy Prime Minister Morrison's explicit request to save Mr Kelly's preselection for the safe NSW seat of Hughes.
Leader of the NSW moderates Matt Kean stared the former PM and Wentworth MP down, telling him they would not play a part in any personal vendetta against the party.
Mr Turnbull reportedly told the NSW Minister they should vote against the motion to save Mr Kelly because it could bring on an early election, which he said would help "save" NSW Premier Berejiklian.
KELLY UNLEASHES IN EXPLETIVE-LADEN RANT
Meanwhile, Fairfax Media reports Mr Kelly was involved in a heated incident with a Liberal mayor at a children's gymnastics awards ceremony last night as tensions about his preselection boil over.
Mr Kelly reportedly shouted at the Liberal mayor of the Sutherland Shire Council Carmelo Pesce "You're a f***ing prick" when Mr Pesce refused to shake his hand when they ran into each other at the Engadine Gymnastics Club on Sunday night.
Both were there to hand out awards, along with NSW MP Lee Evans, who Fairfax quoted as saying "This is not how you behave in public" when asked last night about the outburst.
Mr Kelly reportedly said to Mr Pesce: "Are you f***ing kidding me? You're not going to f***ing shake my hand?" when the mayor refused to shake his hand.
Mr Pesce is said to have initially refused to respond to Mr Kelly but then replied "You're a disgrace for what you're doing to the party" when pushed.
TURNBULL INTERVENTION 'NOT HELPFUL'
Attorney-General Christian Porter has responded to Mr Turnbull's comments this morning, telling ABC radio they were "not overly helpful".
He refused to comment further, saying: "the only thing that makes it more unhelpful is me talking about it for too long".
Mathias Cormann, a key powerbroker in the party, also refused to be drawn on Mr Turnbull's intervention this morning, saying: "Malcolm Turnbull is a private citizen. He's a member of the Liberal Party of New South Wales. He's entitled to his views and I wish him well."
The Finance Minister did not back Mr Turnbull's call for a democratic preselection process in Hughes, saying: "In the end, the matters in New South Wales are a matter for the New South Wales Liberal Party State Executive and I'm confident that they will make a decision based on their judgments and what is in the best interests of the Liberal Party in New South Wales and the best interests of the Government and the country moving forward."
Mr Turnbull also denied this morning that he had encouraged Ms Banks to quit the party last week.
"I appreciate that there are some people who think women can't make their own decisions but Julia Banks made her own decision," he said.
"She is a formidable, experienced, strong woman. She is a corporate lawyer, she came into parliament with a great track record in the private sector and she has made her own conciencious decision."
He also rejected suggestions he was becoming the "miserable ghost" he accused former prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott of being.
"For a start, Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott stayed in the parliament and did every thing they could to overthrow their successor. I've left the parliament ... I'm not a threat to anyone there."