Malcolm Turnbull has fired another sneaky salvo at embattled Prime Minister Tony Abbott, whose job he is widely thought to want.
The Communications Minister dominated the ABC’s Monday night episode of Q&A, subtly criticising the sacking of Liberal Party elder Philip Ruddock as “a captain’s call”.
Dressed in an orange tie instead of the Liberal Party’s semi-official blue, Mr Turnbull described the former Chief Whip in glowing terms and said his demotion on Friday was “a very sad day for all of us”.
With a straight face, he said the Prime Minister had made a “captain’s call” — a term widely thought to be pejorative — which was greeted with laughter from the live audience.
Mr Abbott narrowly survived a “near death experience” last week after a series of unpopular calls, including the knighting of Prince Philip, that angered his backbench.
“It was Tony’s call, right, so he’s the one who has to explain [Ruddock’s replacement],” Mr Turnbull said.
“He’s the boss, he’s the captain, he can make a captain’s call.”
Watch Malcolm Turnbull on Q&A:
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Was there any need for any other panelist tonight? Let’s be honest. #QAndA
— Latika Bourke (@latikambourke) February 16, 2015
The minister also carefully deflected questions about his leadership ambition, which in recent days Mr Abbott has said he ‘welcomes’.
When Abbott’s chances of staying on as leader was put to the panel, which included journalist Greg Sheridan and popular TV host Lisa Wilkinson, the Communications Minister refused to back the PM.
“Tempting though it is to venture into the minefield you’re luring me into, I think I’ll pass on this one,” he said.
The PM has consistently told the media that the popularity of Mr Turnbull and others on his frontbench is a testament to the strength and talent of “my team”. But the minister’s coyness was seen as less of a team effort and more of a personal home run, with Twitter lighting up with praise.
— Mitchell Toy (@MitchellToy) February 16, 2015
His defence of border protection and the government’s austerity measures was less popular on the left-wing leaning social media platform, however.
“They’ve reduced the number of children in detention by 90 per cent,” said Mr Turnbull, pointing out that it was his party’s goal to completely empty the camps of young people.
“Judge us by our actions,” he said.
He was responding to last week’s damning Human Rights Commission, which reported widespread mental illness amongst young detained asylum seekers.
As the program wound up, Mr Turnbull set out the need for a strong vision in politics, which both major parties have in recent years been criticised for lacking.
“I think firstly you have to set out a vision… then you’ve got to explain honestly, not dumbing it down… the problems that we face,” he said.
“I think the government and opposition should be prepared to put their cards on the table and actually have a debate.
“You never know, out of that debate you might come up with a third solution that is better than either of those.”