Ousted chief government whip Philip Ruddock has indicated the Prime Minister did not confront him about his performance as whip prior to sacking him.
Tony Abbott said he sacked the long-serving MP because he was not as aware as he should have been that backbenchers were unhappy with his Prime Ministership.
Some of Mr Abbott’s supporters believe Mr Ruddock did not do enough to publicly rally support Mr Abbott and should have done a better job of picking up on backbench disquiet.
Mr Abbott told Channel 10 he hoped replacing Mr Ruddock with Queensland MP Scott Buchholz would prevent him being caught unawares again.
“Plainly I wasn’t as aware as I should have been on all of this, I never want to find myself in this position ever again and I’m confident that with the whips team that we’ve got I will be very much aware of what’s going on,” he said.
Mr Ruddock told Sky News: “My expectation is if the Prime Minister had concerns about the way in which I undertook the task he would put them to me”.
“The position I held is the Prime Minister’s choice and if he had any concerns I would expect him to raise them with me,” Mr Ruddock said.
The surprise move has angered Mr Abbott’s internal critics, who argue its timing makes it look like recrimination for last week’s failed attempt to spill the leadership.
Mr Ruddock, however, rejected the suggestion his demotion was retribution for failing to publicly defend the Prime Minister ahead of the spill motion vote.
“To be a barracker rather than refusing to comment was in my view not the appropriate way forward,” Mr Ruddock said.
“The Prime Minister had my support, and I did what I believe was the appropriate role.”
Asked if he thought he’d been treated unfairly by Mr Abbott, Mr Ruddock said the chief whip’s position “is one that the leader chooses”.
“I have no complaint,” he said, rejecting the suggestion he had been made a scapegoat after Queensland backbencher Andrew Laming labelled the move “scapegoating of Godzilla proportions”.
“We really needed a week of healing, not wounding, and I think it really has set us back a fair bit particularly because Philip Ruddock was such a respected character,” Mr Laming told the ABC.
Mr Laming said he spoke to Mr Abbott on Friday and told him what he thought.
“Regardless of the reasons, regardless of what you write in a press release, the perception when acting in this way in this week will be that it was one of recrimination,” Mr Laming said.
On Saturday, when asked whether the move was an act of retribution Mr Abbott replied “No, not at all”.
“Philip Ruddock is a friend, Philip Ruddock is a colleague and Philip Ruddock was a supporter,” he said.
“But what I am determined to do is have a deeper and stronger engagement with the backbench and that means it was very important to renew and refresh the whips team.”
Mr Ruddock, who is known as the “Father of the House” for being the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, would not say if he had been offered an alternative position.