Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has backed away from a key argument for rolling Tony Abbott in 2015, denying that consistent poor polling should represent a trigger for a leadership challenge.
Labor has led the Coalition in the 10 most recent Newspoll results, and recorded a 10-point advantage in last month’s Fairfax-Ipsos poll.
But on Friday, Mr Turnbull argued the leadership change was “history”, and said poor opinion polls were not a “metric” for a leadership challenge.
On the day of the 2015 party room vote, Mr Turnbull cited the Coalition’s dire polling position as evidence the government should change leaders, arguing it showed Labor was on track to win the election against Mr Abbott.
He said Mr Abbott’s government was not providing the economic leadership Australia needed.
“The one thing that is clear about our current situation is the trajectory. We have lost 30 Newspolls in a row. It is clear that the people have made up their mind about Mr Abbott’s leadership,” Mr Turnbull said at the time.
He backed away from that comment on Friday, telling 3AW radio that ongoing bad polls should not spark a challenge against him.
“There is no such metric,” he said.
“When I challenged Tony Abbott, I referred to the fact that he had lost 30 Newspolls in a row. That was not the only basis for my mounting a challenge, I made a number of other points.
“I don’t want to go through it all. It is part of political history,” he said, blaming the media for its “focus on conflict”.
Mr Turnbull conceded his government had suffered 10 bad polls, but maintained there was time to turn it around.
“Of course I don’t want that, but can I say to you, the election is more than two years away. There’s a lot of water to go under the bridge and the critical thing is to keep on delivering.”
The comments were at odds with Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who on Thursday said opinion polls did in fact represent a benchmark for the Liberal leadership.
Mr Dutton, considered a potential future leader from the party’s right, agreed 30 bad Newspolls in a row would present a legitimate trigger for leadership challenge.
“That’s a fair point and Malcolm Turnbull wouldn’t step back from that point,” Mr Dutton said. “What we need to do is to turn polls around if that’s the measure we have to make tough decisions as the Howard government did, as the Abbott government did.”
Mr Abbott has been contacted for comment.
He told Canberra commercial radio this week he wasn’t preparing to leave politics.
“I’ve signed up for this term of the parliament and may well sign up to go around again. So I’ve still got some time left in the parliament,” Mr Abbott said.
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