CANBERRA -- Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has confirmed her chief of staff was at a pre-coup meeting the night before the ousting of Tony Abbott, but denies he was there plotting at her behest.
It’s been revealed the Deputy Liberal Leader’s most trusted adviser, Murray Hansen, was present at the Queanbeyan home of Liberal MP Peter Hendy on the night of September 13 with the plotters group of Malcolm Turnbull and his supporters as they decided to challenge the Liberal Leadership.
The revelation, in the new book Battleground -- written by Wayne Errington and Peter van Onselen, has angered conservative party members, while cabinet colleague Peter Dutton has described the events as “serious”.
Hansen’s presence that night also appears to contradict Bishop’s long standing position that she was not involved in coup plotting, but the Foreign Minister has declared she did not know who was going to be there she and Hansen were just doing their jobs.
“Yes, he was at a drinks night at Peter Hendy's place on the Sunday night, “she told reporters in Canberra. “I was aware he was attending at Peter Hendy's house.”
“It is part of my job as deputy leader to understand what the Party Room is thinking.
“It is part of my job to be in touch with members of the back bench, either through my staff or personally.”
It's the first time anyone from Bishop’s inner-sanctum has been connected with the secret meeting, which was also attended by Turnbull, Arthur Sinodinos, James McGrath, Wyatt Roy, Scott Ryan, Mitch Fifield and Mal Brough.
“Nothing that has come out in this story contradicts anything that I have said publicly,” Bishop declared.
“It completely aligns with what I have said about this matter from the outset that once I was aware that the Prime Minister at the time -- Prime Minister, Tony Abbott -- had lost the confidence of a majority of the Cabinet room and a majority of his party, I spoke to him about it immediately.”
But Dutton, who backed Abbott in the September leadership contest, wants a clarification from Bishop, who said owed a “special loyalty” to party leaders.
“Everybody wants to get behind Malcolm Turnbull to make sure we win the next election, obviously the deputy leader in the party owes a special duty of care and a special loyalty to the leader,’’ he told Macquarie radio.
“I don’t even know if this is true, no doubt Julie Bishop will clarify the situation.”
“Obviously it has been claimed in this book and it is a serious suggestion but no doubt Julie will be able to address it, I don’t have any knowledge beyond that.”
Questioned on Thursday, Hendy refused to say whether or not Hansen was there in a plotting capacity on the night of September 13.
"I've said everything I will say on the public record. The bottom line is that nothing I have seen in the public record contradicts what Julie Bishop said," he told the ABC.
Hendy has avoided repeated questions about what took place at the coup eve meeting at his home.
"I don't know that anybody has done a public on-the-record interview about any meetings, and I've been clear that what is relevant," he said.
"What counts is what happened on Monday, the relevant date when Malcolm Turnbull went in and saw Tony Abbott and I think he was very, very upfront in presenting a case of why there needed to be a change of leadership and that's what happened and now we're getting on with."
The Treasurer, Scott Morrison, who was elevated after the leadership change, is backing Bishop who he said is doing a “fantastic job” and it is a “privilege to serve with her.”
“As the Foreign Minister said, she was getting about her job," he told reporters in Canberra.
“She is an outstanding deputy leader, always has been, served many leaders very faithfully and loyally.”
“She has always been one who had her ear tightly attuned to all colleagues,” Morrison said.