NATIONAL Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss says the Coalition agreement would need to be renegotiated if Tony Abbott was removed as Prime Minister.
Mr Truss spoke to media today as the National party gathered for a meeting in Wodonga, Victoria, to prepare battle plans for the year ahead, with a specific focus on regional issues.
However, the National party’s key planning session also arrived with mounting pressure on Mr Abbott’s leadership amid tightening scrutiny from Liberal colleagues.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten said the Liberal government was “absorbed with fighting over their own jobs and they have forgotten about Australia in the process”.
“The last two weeks have been shambolic and chaotic and in the meantime real Australia is doing it hard,” he said.
“It's long overdue that the Liberal government in Canberra stop worrying about who is going to sell their unfair message (and) they go back to keeping their promises they made before the last election, the basis upon which they hold power in Australia.
“And they need to remember that cost of living is far more important than whether or not it's Julie Bishop, Malcolm Turnbull or Tony Abbott as chief salesman for this Liberal government.
“What matters is for Tony Abbott or any of his people who are circling him looking for his job, is they say clearly to Australia ‘we will keep our promises we made before the last election’.
“Just dumping the salesman of the broken promises doesn't change the truth of the broken promises.”
Nats would renegotiate Coalition
Mr Truss reiterated his support for Mr Abbott and conceded a different Coalition agreement would be needed if a new leader was appointed.
But he also said, “At this stage, I don't think that's likely to be an issue”.
“The Coalition agreement is actually between Tony Abbott and me and that's an agreement that we submitted to the Governor-General so that she was able to commission the government,” he said.
“So that is an agreement between the Nationals and the Liberals, but particularly it's an agreement between Tony Abbott, as leader of the Liberal Party, and me, as leader of the Nationals.”
Mr Truss said the leadership issue was an issue for the Liberal Party to resolve but he’s made it “absolutely clear that I'm happy to be working with Tony Abbott”.
“I think he's doing a good job and I would like his leadership to continue,” he said.
Asked whether he’d been sounded out from any third party in the Liberal Party on whether he’d support any leadership change, Mr Truss said, “no”.
“I think everyone should support the leader; they should make it clear that they will back this government and they'll work constructively with Tony Abbott to make sure that we deliver for the people of Australia,” he said.
Mr Truss also played down questions about whether the Nationals could work with former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull, who they rejected when he was beaten by Mr Abbott in a leadership ballot in 2009, if he became PM.
“I don't think there will be any other candidates,” Mr Truss said.
“I think Tony Abbott is the leader, he should remain the leader and everyone should get in behind him.
“I hope that shortly you might get around to asking us questions about the Nationals and what we're doing and our determination to work as a united team who contribute constructively to the government and also, in particular, to deliver good policies for Australia.
“Now, we've got ministers who are involved in some of the key areas of the economy and service provision in this country and we have, therefore, a vital role to play and we're determined to do that in a constructive way and we want to get on with that job.
“And therefore we want to talk about policy issues not distractions about leadership or other questions.”
Rather than ongoing distractions, Mr Truss said it was important to have strong and stable government and therefore important that the leadership issue is “settled and settled quickly”.
“I've regarded as a privilege to work with Tony Abbott,” he said.
“He's got a strong commitment to our country, a vision and determination, he works hard and he has been a good partner for the Nationals.
“So it is important that those issues be resolved and be resolved promptly and then we get on with the business of delivering strong, stable and assured government.”
Regional Australia agenda
Mr Truss said the party’s agenda for today’s meeting included “a wide range of issues of importance to regional Australia” including health care, improved education for country residents, delivering the government’s $50 billion infrastructure commitment for roads and railway lines, regional communications .
“We all know the regions contribute enormously to our nation's wealth and when the regions are strong so is our country,” he said.
“And so for that reason it is vitally important that we have strong and healthy and vibrant regions to guarantee that our country will get through the difficulties, the economic difficulties that are confronting the globe at the present time and indeed problems with commodity prices et cetera that are affecting our own profitability as a nation.”
The Melbourne to Brisbane inland railway line was also a key focus to the party’s meeting today which Mr Truss described as “a nation changing project”.
“Essentially the road transport task or the transport task for our nation is expected to double over the next 20 years and treble over the next 30 years,” he said.
“So unless we've got a better rail system, unless we've got better shipping arrangements the reality will be that our road system will simply be unable to cope.
“So projects like this are vital to ensure that our economy will be mobile and able to move freight around the country in the decades ahead.”
Mr Truss said the government had committed $300 million to prepare the project for the construction phase and begin early construction, via a committee headed by former party leader John Anderson.
“They've been doing work on identifying some of the key issues to be addressed in relation to the route and I'm pleased to announce today and additional $29 million commitment to that process,” he said.
“This $29 million will help to complete the business case for the project, identify routes (and) deal with some of the challenging engineering issues particularly in this instance in Country New South Wales and Southern Queensland.”
Mr Anderson said the project was in the order of a modern snowy mountain scheme in terms of its scope, size and its cost.
“I would say that we need it as a matter of national priority now as construction jobs in the mining sector are lost, this can soak up a great deal of unemployment that would otherwise occur,” he said.
“That's in the short term.
“In the long term this hooks up the most productive regions of Australia in a way that will help them enormously boost their existing businesses, build new businesses.
“It will for the first time give a modern economy a modern rail network.
“Whilst there'll be enough jobs for the truckies to keep them busy forever, because of the expanding economy, this will take about 100,000 truck movements a year off the corridor, it will free up Sydney's rail and road network, so there's a great benefit for a very crowded city in that and of course trains are environmentally friendly and particularly fuel efficient.”