Coalition insiders reveal the challenges facing Malcolm Turnbull

After squeaking home in an election that analysts say has dented his political authority, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull finds himself looking at a future strewn with obstacles.

When Parliament sits later this month, the Government will face a fractious Senate and a fragile one-seat majority in the Lower House.

Mr Turnbull will need all his political skills to hold onto office for his three-year term.

Coalition insiders have spoken to Four Corners about the challenges facing Australia's 29th prime minister.

Rebels in the ranks

"There are some people who are ambitious and want to use their influence for promotion. There are some people who have scores to settle and want to use their influence for that purpose. There are some that have legitimate policy issues and are entitled to use their influence for that.

"But the point is this: on a very slim majority, you can't afford to have too many people in any of those camps. In a situation like this, your first preoccupation becomes the internal management. If you can't get that right, then none of these other things will be of relevance." — Peter Costello, former federal treasurer

Factional warfare

"They spend half their life on the telephone ringing people up, suggesting to them that if they do this, certain benefits and rewards in terms of party advancement or preferment might come their way.

"There's no doubt that there are people not on state executive who caucus regularly on the phone and face to face with people who are on the state executive to try to get pre-cooked outcomes." — Tony Abbott, former prime minister

Rebellion on super

"A lot of us held our noses, sold it during the election campaign, but then tried to tell the Government there was a problem here and it needs to be re-addressed.

"And regrettably there was a lot of stonewalling at first, which then led to the inevitable reaction, which was, 'well, if you're not gonna listen to me, I'm gonna cross the floor'.

"I would like to think that common sense will prevail. I'm still hopeful that it will, and therefore we can come to a resolution that says to our base, 'we have heard you, we've listened to you, and here are the changes, and yes we get the message from the election'.

"If we keep going full steam ahead and pretend that nothing happened on July 2 other than a huge mandate for us, we will be going to an electoral disaster in 2019." — Eric Abetz, Liberal senator from Tasmania

"I think there are genuine concerns in the policy as it was presented, and I think the Government has acknowledged that it will have to look at it, and it will. And, of course, it will have to legislate it." — Peter Costello

That tight Parliament

"If you think you can govern Australia with 76 members of Parliament, I wish you well. No-one can go to the bathroom. Don't have your grandmother die, because you won't be able to go to the funeral." — Bob Katter, independent MP

"The crossbenchers don't have any responsibility for the overall outcome. All they're concerned about is cherry-picking advantages for themselves and their constituencies. And so you have to woo them, you have to dine with them, you have to talk to them, you have to be attentive to them, you have to flatter them, you have to stroke their egos.

"Now, you'll have different ones on different issues, but, when a big vote is coming up, they are your greatest friend. There is no-one else in the world except that Senate crossbencher." — Peter Costello

"Clearly, a wafer-thin majority requires the Prime Minister and the leadership not only to reach out to the crossbenchers, but also all elements within the Liberal National Party Coalition, because I'm sure they must realise it will only take one person or two in the House of Representatives to cross the floor to defeat government legislation." — Eric Abetz

"It will be difficult, but I wouldn't exaggerate the level of difficulty. It is always difficult … This is what I have been dealing with as Senate leader since I've been in the position; that is the nature of the Senate and it's the nature of the task of a Senate leader." George Brandis, Government Leader in the Senate

Uniting the party

"Our demise — if there's such a thing — can only be brought about by ourselves. Are we saying to people that, 'you prefer to put the the nation at risk than to continue with the process of building it to a stronger position'. I can't think of any of my colleagues who'd say, 'no, I'd prefer to put the nation at risk'." — Barnaby Joyce, Deputy Prime Minister

"The narrowness of its majority in the House of Representatives will impose a discipline upon all of my colleagues.

"And I can tell you, regardless of what their views might be on particular issues, every last man and woman in the Coalition partyroom is united by a desire to win the 2019 election. And they have all been in politics or around politics for long enough to know that disunity is death." — George Brandis

Economic uncertainty

"The agencies are saying Australia's debt has climbed alarmingly, it's not the AAA lending proposition that it used to be … And they're looking at the political situation and they're saying this: The political situation is so wafer-thin, that the chances of Government doing much about this have declined.

"Now, they'll wait to see what happens. Will we make any progress on our budget deficit? Will we be able to reduce debt? If we're not able to do that, if the political situation stops us from doing that, that's the time we'll get a downgrade." — Peter Costello

"It should be clearly seen by the Senate, by the Lower House, that we have to try and get the books of our nation under control, and we intend to do that. Because that is the ultimate … statement of healthcare, it's the ultimate statement of education, it's ultimate statement of people's pensions and their social security — that we have to balance the books, otherwise there is no money there for it. We must do it." — Barnaby Joyce

The future of Abbott

"The point I've made again and again … is that the Abbott era is over and the Liberal Party rightly wants to look forward, not back.

"Now, I certainly want to be a constructive contributor to that process … and I think there's a lot that I can do over the next three years to try to crystallise and clarify where centre-right politics in this country goes from here.

"But in terms of the top job, the Abbott era, as I've said before, is well and truly over." — Tony Abbott

"I think it would have been gracious of the Prime Minister to reach out to his predecessor and say 'of course somebody that led us out of opposition into government has something to offer the Liberal Party and the nation'. Somebody with that sort of experience clearly is worthy of inclusion in the Cabinet.

"The fact that the Prime Minister did not think that that was the case is for him to explain, but much as I would like to see a rapprochement, I have seen no signs of it.

"I think it was a strategic error by the Prime Minister not to restore one of us to the Cabinet to run a good ship. But having said that, Tony Abbott, Kevin Andrews and myself never got into politics to see a Labor government installed.

"So we will do whatever we possibly can, albeit from the backbench, to ensure that good Liberal Party principles are upheld... and to ensure that Labor does not win the next election." — Eric Abetz

Source: ABC News

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