Education Minister Christopher Pyne has played down leadership speculation involving Malcolm Turnbull amid a bitter stoush between the former coalition leader and two of the country’s most powerful conservative commentators.
Mr Pyne has also rejected speculation of an imminent cabinet reshuffle, which some media reports have suggested is linked to the public assault on Mr Turnbull at the hands of News Corporation commentator Andrew Bolt and Sydney talk-back radio heavyweight Alan Jones.
The two conservative commentators have accused Mr Turnbull of not doing enough to sell the budget and destabilising Prime Minister Tony Abbott, with Mr Jones calling the communications minister a “bomb thrower” intent on regaining the Liberal leadership.
Mr Turnbull has refused to rule out another tilt at the Liberal leadership, saying he doesn’t harbour “any plans, any desires, any expectations to be the leader” but that “politics is an unpredictable business”.
Mr Pyne on Friday moved to play down the leadership speculation, saying Mr Turnbull was very happy being the communications minister.
“Malcolm has been the leader, and that has ended and he’s very happy being the communications minister,” Mr Pyne told the Nine Network on Friday.
“He’s doing an excellent job and I think he’s been selling the budget as well as anybody in the government.”
But Mr Pyne stopped short of condemning Mr Bolt and Mr Jones, who Mr Turnbull says have been doing Labor’s work by destabilising the Liberal Party with their very public assault on him.
“Andrew and Alan have to make their own decisions. They’re not members of our party room, they’re independent media commentators and how they see things is a matter for them,” Mr Pyne said.
The comments come after Mt Abbott, in Paris, also refused to condemn the two conservative commentators.
Mr Abbott said he did not agree with Mr Turnbull’s assessment of Mr Jones as a “bomb-thrower” doing the Labor party’s work, or that Mr Jones and Mr Bolt involved in a concerted attack against Mr Turnbull.
“Alan is a friend of mine, Andrew Bolt is a friend of mine, I think that they are both very significant commentators and they’ve got a lot to say as you know,” Mr Abbott said.
Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese said there was leadership speculation and talk of a cabinet reshuffle because the coalition had brought down a “shocker of a budget”.
“If the budget had had any credibility, any common decency other than attacking the Australian values on education, on health support for Medicare, on pensions, then you wouldn’t have this speculation,” Mr Albanese said.