Private correspondence revealing what Tom Hughes QC, the Prime Minister’s father-in-law, really thought of ousted PM Tony Abbott has been dismissed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as outdated.
Malcolm Turnbull said on Friday Mr Hughes had written a private note to Mr Abbott apologising for any offence caused by his private views in the soon-to-be published biography of Tom Hughes, A Cab on the Rank by historian Ian Hancock.
Mr Hughes, the legendary Sydney barrister and former Commonwealth Attorney General, now 92, is the father of Lucy Turnbull, the PM’s wife.
In 2009, after Mr Turnbull lost the leadership to Tony Abbott in a party room ballot, Mr Hughes sent a hand written note to Mr Turnbull describing Mr Abbott as a “lunatic”.
“There is room only for improvement and the party’s present folly will pass,” the note said.
The book also reveals Mr Hughes wrote in a letter to the late art critic Robert Hughes that the leadership change was “a potentially catastrophic decision”.
Questioned about the correspondence on Friday Mr Turnbull indicated that Mr Hughes had sent a personal note to Mr Abbott.
“His memoir will be of great interest and inspiration to many people who read his life story. Tom has great respect for Tony Abbott and the note that is referred to in his memoirs, of course, is some years old and I know that Tom has written a note to Tony just to apologise if any offence is caused by that”.
Malcolm Turnbull has been busy fence mending elsewhere. Latika Bourke in Fairfax Media reported that Mr Turnbull featured at Cory Bernardi’s Leadership Foundation fundraiser in Adelaide on Thursday. The “hardcore conservative” monarchist senator is opposed to same-sex marriage and abortion.
In an interview with Michelle Grattan’s The Conversation Tony Abbott expressed his confidence that a re-elected Malcolm Turnbull would not be taking the Liberal Party in a different direction to its current course.
“As party leader you are very much a product of the party in a way that you aren’t quite when you are simply a senior frontbencher,” Mr Abbott said.
He denied he was seeking to return to the front bench. That was a matter for the PM.
The rise of Nick Xenophon
The prospect of South Australian anti-gambling Senator Nick Xenophon gaining even more political leverage on July 2 is becoming a very real prospect.
The Xenophon party is standing candidates in all state senate contests and in key marginal lower house seats to exploit disaffection now apparent with big parties and with the slogan: “Sick of toxic politics? Give the Nick Xenophon team a go.”
Founded on Senator Xenophon’s high profile opposition to predatory gambling, the party’s leader in now under the media microscope, sooled by his political rivals.
On Friday Senator Xenophon announced an audit of his financial affairs after he admitted having “stuffed up” by failing to declare a directorship of a company, Adelaide Tower Pty Ltd, run by his father, Theo Xenophon, 85.
“I’m actually undertaking an audit through my accountant, to make sure there’s nothing that’s been unsaid or undeclared,” he said.
The company was in tax arrears which Senator Xenophon said had since been resolved.
Negative perceptions from the admission will be played into the battle for Mayo where polls indicate the Xenophon team candidate has a chance of unseating the incumbent, Liberal Jamie Briggs, in a preferences pincer with Labor and the Greens.
Prime Minister Turnbull is acutely aware of the need to secure Mr Briggs’ re-election.
“The only way we can be certain of being returned to government and I can be certain of continuing to be prime minister after July 2 is if Jamie Briggs is returned as the member for Mayo,” Mr Turnbull said.
* Quentin Dempster is a Walkley Award-winning journalist, author and broadcaster with decades of experience. He is a veteran of the ABC newsroom and has worked with a number of print titles including the Sydney Morning Herald. He was awarded an Order of Australia in 1992 for services to journalism.