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Abbott: Ruddock no scapegoat

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Prime Minister Tony Abbott has promised a “deeper and stronger” engagement with coalition backbenchers following his decision to dump Liberal elder Philip Ruddock as government chief whip.

“I’ve made a very strong commitment for a deeper and stronger engagement with the backbench of our party and that is why I’ve chosen to renew the … team,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Sydney.

“Obviously I have nothing but the deepest respect for Philip Ruddock.”

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He said Mr Ruddock had been a “mighty servant” of the country and parliament and was looking forward to him continuing to serve the “parliament and the government in the days and weeks and months ahead”.

The prime minister’s comments come after he replaced Mr Ruddock in the role with his deputy, Queensland MP Scott Buchholz, on Friday.

The move has reportedly sparked a fresh round of bickering in coalition ranks following a number of controversial “captain picks” by Mr Abbott, including the decision to award Prince Philip an Australian knighthood.

Abbott loyalist and assistant treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Saturday said he had spoken to Mr Ruddock following the sacking, and that the former whip understood the position was a “gift of the prime minister”.

The decision to replace Mr Ruddock is being seen as a result of Monday’s move for a leadership spill motion.

Mr Abbott won the motion with 61 votes against the spill and 39 MPs for – about twice the number anticipated by Mr Abbott’s supporters.

It has been suggested that the whip – the party’s enforcer and a link between senior ranks and the backbench – had failed to flag to the seriousness of discontent among Liberal MPs.

Queensland Liberal Andrew Laming described the sacking of Mr Ruddock as a “scapegoating of Goliath proportions”, News Corp Australia reported.

Speaking at the launch of an Anzac Day charity event in Sydney, Mr Abbott described Mr Ruddock as a friend, colleague and supporter.

“I have nothing but respect, friendship and admiration for Philip who has been a great servant of our country and our party for more than 40 years,” he said.

Philip Ruddock career highlights

– Elected to House of Representatives, 1973
– Minister for immigration and multicultural affairs, 1996-2001
– Minister for immigration and multicultural and indigenous affairs, 2001-03
– Minister for administrative services, 1997
– Minister assisting the prime minister for reconciliation, 1998-2003
– Minister for reconciliation and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs, 2001
– Attorney-general, 2003-07
– Chief government whip, 2013-15

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