Turnbull’s heated final showdown as PM

Malcolm Turnbull allegedly had a furious clash with Attorney-General Christian Porter the day before he was ousted from the top job over his efforts to convince Governor-General Peter Cosgrove not to commission Peter Dutton as prime minister.

On August 23 last year, the former Liberal leader told Mr Porter "the Governor-General would not commission" Mr Dutton if he was elected Liberal Party leader based on doubts over his eligibility, The Australian reports.

Mr Porter said he would feel the need to publicly repudiate Mr Turnbull's position if he made this information public.

"I will feel obliged to reject that position at law," Mr Porter said. He also warned Mr Turnbull he would advise the Governor-General that Mr Turnbull's position was "wrong in law" if he persisted.

Earlier, Mr Turnbull had told Senate Leader Mathias Cormann the Governor-General would not commission Mr Dutton.

Asked about the incident by The Australian, a spokesperson for the Governor-General said: "No formal advice was sought or provided to the office in relation to any eligibility issues."

Malcolm Turnbull allegedly made a last-ditch attempt to hold onto his leadership the day before he was ousted.
Malcolm Turnbull allegedly made a last-ditch attempt to hold onto his leadership the day before he was ousted.

It comes as an explosive documentary aired on Tuesday night revealed how fingers were pointed in every direction over the demise of Mr Turnbull's governance.

The two-part series, titled Bad Blood/New Blood, showed why the Coalition thought it was necessary to depose him.

It also showed how the former PM clung on for dear life to stay in the top job - including how he secretly called in MP Arthur Sinodinos, who camped out in his office and gave him advice on how to beat Mr Dutton.

Mr Dutton did not hold back in his criticism of Mr Turnbull, saying: "I still don't harbour animosity toward Malcolm now. I think it's unfortunate, I think it's sad, actually, that he's trashed his reputation in the way that he has."

However, it was not Mr Dutton who emerged as the man who brought down Mr Turnbull's leadership. That tag fell to one of his closest allies, Mr Cormann.

Turnbull backer Craig Laundy told the documentary makers Mr Cormann's defection delivered the fatal blow to his leadership.

Malcolm Turnbull clashed with Attorney-General Christian Porter.
Malcolm Turnbull clashed with Attorney-General Christian Porter.

"Our problem was we'd banked Mathias' support. And that ended up being the piece of the puzzle that brought the whole tent down." he said. "It was devastating and turned out to be the mortal wound."

Sky News journalist David Speers asked whether the defections of Mitch Fifield and Michaelia Cash were as much to blame, and Mr Laundy simply said: "It's more Mathias."

It's claimed the three high-profile defectors - who withdrew their support from Mr Turnbull in a press conference on "spill week" - paved the way for other ministers to resign.

"When someone of that stature goes, it sends a very powerful message, and it's one that's very hard to combat," Mr Laundy said.

However, although Mr Cormann said the defection had cost him mates within the party, he hit out at the accusation he had betrayed Mr Turnbull.

"I was absolutely truthful to him to his face," he said.

"When I formed the view that he no longer enjoyed majority support in the party room, and I formed the view that he no longer enjoyed my support, I told him directly, personally in a one-on-one conversation, and I offered my resignation."

Mathias Cormann denies he betrayed Mr Turnbull. Picture: AAP Image/James Ross
Mathias Cormann denies he betrayed Mr Turnbull. Picture: AAP Image/James Ross

The series also reveals Mr Dutton's explosive claim that Mr Turnbull offered him the role of deputy Liberal leader in favour of Julie Bishop. He claims Mr Turnbull made him that offer last August, however the former PM denies it ever happened.

The only other man in the room was Mr Cormann, and he flatly refused to reveal what was said in the meeting to Sky News - saying it was a "private conversation".

The series begins by showing how an argument over dinner between Mr Laundy and Queensland MP Luke Howarth kicked off the whole debacle.

Mr Laundy said they caused a scene, and it was then he knew the spill was brewing.

"We lost our temper," he said. "It was a tense exchange."

Mr Laundy called Mr Turnbull straight after the dinner to warn him there could be a move against him.

"Malcolm said to me very clearly I would rather live on my feet than die on my knees," Mr Laundy said.

A snap leadership spill was called the next morning, a move that Barnaby Joyce said was a fatal mistake.

"Malcolm brought on his own demise - he called the spill - you don't call a spill," he said. "You just don't call one. You obviously don't call a spill unless you've got the numbers. Now you just don't call a spill."

Mr Laundy said it was "bloody quiet" in the party room when Mr Turnbull spilt his leadership.

"You could hear a pin drop," he said. "Just one hand went up. Only one man was ready."

That man was Mr Dutton, who slammed Mr Turnbull in Tuesday night's episode - hitting out at his rival's delaying tactics.

Mr Turnbull demanded a petition with 43 signatures before he would call a second party room meeting to enable a spill.

"That was Malcolm just going back into the 'Packer lawyer' or the merchant banker mode to destroy your enemy," he said.

Victorian senator James Paterson also hit out at the tactics, saying: "I think the way in which Malcolm has conducted himself post leaving the parliament in particular - as well as that week - has given the public a bit of an insight into what Liberal MPs have been dealing with."

However, Mr Turnbull found a secret ally in Mr Sinodinos, who had been on leave for months receiving treatment for cancer, after he gave the veteran pollie a call.

"I came down first thing on the Thursday morning and camped in the PM's office," Mr Sinodinos said.

"I encouraged him to insist on getting the 43 signatures and playing for time because I thought it was important for the party room to have time to really consider the implications of what they were doing."

Arthur Sinodinos said he camped in Turnbull’s office after being called to help. Picture Kym Smith
Arthur Sinodinos said he camped in Turnbull’s office after being called to help. Picture Kym Smith

Mr Laundy also made moves to back his preferred leader, offering Ted O'Brien and Andrew Wallace promotions in return for supporting Mr Turnbull, but he said it was too little, too late as "the Government was being held to account by terrorists".

Julie Bishop was also in the race for the leadership, but according to Mr Sinodinos, Scott Morrison had been putting in the leg work behind closed doors to ensure he had the upper-hand over her and, of course, Mr Dutton, who he beat by just three votes.

"Julie was loyal to Malcolm right to the end, so that meant that she didn't start canvassing or seeking people's votes until late in the piece," he said.

"And I think what had happened in the meantime is that Scott and others had been working to lock people away."

Mr Morrison was candid about how he secured the numbers, telling Speers, he simply "talked to his colleagues".

"They were very aware of the position that I had taken all the way up until that point and the support I had provided (Malcolm)," he said.

"And it was really then about who was in the best position to take us forward."

Mr Morrison added he believed he was the best man for the job.

"The country had just been through a very traumatic experience, and they were looking for someone to just take hold of this and tell them that it would be OK," he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he secured victory by “talking to his colleagues”. Picture: AAP Image/Dean Lewins
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he secured victory by “talking to his colleagues”. Picture: AAP Image/Dean Lewins

However, it's clear from Tuesday night's documentary the wounds of division have still not healed.

Mr Dutton savaged Mr Turnbull - calling his resignation "vindictive" and "selfish".

"He chose to leave in a way that John Howard never would," Mr Dutton told Sky News.

"In a way that Kevin Rudd didn't, in a way Julia Gillard didn't, and it was done simply out of spite."

He also claimed the Liberals could only win the election if he was leader.

Mr Dutton is one of several former and present politicians who have gone on the record about the fractured internal workings of the Liberal party.

"Malcolm came up to me after that party room meeting and said, 'I want you to stay on as Home Affairs Minister', and I said, 'Malcolm, that position is untenable, and I can't accept that'," Mr Dutton said.

"He (Turnbull) offered me the deputy leader position. I said to him, given what had just taken place, that wasn't credible, and it wasn't his to gift either."