Five words that haunt Peter Dutton in tough TV interview on ABC Insiders

The Opposition leader was confronted with a map that shows the diabolical problem facing his party.

·5-min read

Federal Liberal leader Peter Dutton has fought through an uncomfortable TV interview on Sunday morning in the wake of a devastating and historic by-election loss overnight in the once 'safe' Melbourne seat of Aston.

Mr Dutton was front and centre during the campaign, describing the vote as "a verdict on the leaders", referring to himself and prime minister Anthony Albanese. "No doubt about that," he said.

But those five words were thrown back in his face at the top of a sit-down interview with ABC host David Speers on ABC's Insiders.

"You said in your own words this was a test of your leadership. Have you failed that test?" the host asked.

David Speers and Peter Dutton on ABC Insiders.
The host thanked the Opposition leader for 'fronting up' despite the circumstances. Source: ABC

"By not winning the election, we've failed that test ... That's the reality," Mr Dutton conceded, adding there were "mixed messages" in the by-election loss.

"Now, the question is how we rebuild from here, the policies that we have, the brand rebuilding that we need to do in Victoria. That is a very significant issue for us."

The seat was claimed by Labor's Mary Doyle over the Liberals' Roshena Campbell, after it was vacated by sitting member Alan Tudge following a string of controversies. It was the first time in more than a century that a government has won a seat from the opposition in a by-election.

When confronted with a damning map of the Liberal ejection from the metropolitan Melbourne area, Mr Dutton repeated a sentiment expressed on Saturday night that the state was a difficult marketing proposition for the party. But when pressed on why that was, he struggled to answer, instead seemingly blaming Labor's strong campaigning in Aston.

Peter Dutton on Insiders with map of Melbourne
The Liberal Party now represent only 11.5% of enrolled voters in the city of Greater Melbourne. Source: ABC

"I think we need to do the analysis of Aston, have an understanding of what people are motivated by, what caused them to vote Labor for the first time," he said before being cut off by Speers.

"If you are unable to put your finger on why the Liberals are in such trouble in Victoria..." the host said before trailing off.

"Well David, I mean, Labor spent the last five weeks throwing mud at us, at Roshena Campbell, at me..."

"All Labor's fault?" Speers interjected.

Eventually, Mr Dutton conceded the need for party reflection. "I think there are issues in relation to policy, to personnel, issues in relation to our campaigning techniques. All of those are obviously the lessons we need to learn," he said.

No policy shift from Dutton's Liberal Party

The interview touched on whether Liberal Party members should attend anti-trans rallies ("I don't think MPs should be going to anti-anything rallies," Mr Dutton said), the party's stance on climate change, the safety of Mr Dutton's position as leader, and whether the federal Opposition would outline any new policies (not until closer to the next election).

Mr Dutton touted renewable investments into solar, hydro and battery technology under the federal Liberals but suggested his side of politics was misunderstood on the issue of climate change, because "we have been the worst sales people in terms of what we've done for the environment". The Dutton-led opposition opposed the government's safeguard mechanism which introduced a hard cap on industrial sector emissions, which was passed this week with the help of the Greens.

Mr Dutton has previously indicated his party would repeal the government's move to increase tax on earnings of superannuation accounts with more than $3 million, and did not rule out seeking to also repeal the government's key climate policy, known as the safeguard mechanism.

The Liberal leader would also not be drawn on his position on the Voice referendum to be held later this year.

Despite what voters seem to be telling him, Mr Dutton was in no hurry to publicly change tack.

"It doesn't sound like this morning you are signalling any shift, any change, any new direction?" Speers pressed him.

When asked what the modern Liberal Party stands for, Mr Dutton replied: "We stand for aspiration. We stand for entrepreneurialism, so small businesses, we stand for national security obviously, and we always stand for cleaning up a Labor mess when we get back into government so that people can make their own choices."

'Killing season for the Liberals': Is Peter Dutton's leadership safe?

Prior to the by-election, the leader sidestepped questions about his position being in jeopardy in the event of a loss. He labelled reports that deputy leader Sussan Ley was canvassing potential support in such a case as "Canberra gossip".

Speaking on Insiders on Sunday, veteran political journalist Niki Savva revealed that former Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has designs on the top job, predicting a "killing season for the Liberals" towards the end of the year.

While many pundits thought the Aston by-election could be close, former Victorian Liberal Party president Michael Kroger said before polling night that a loss would be "profoundly disturbing" for his party.

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