Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has dismissed his predecessor’s criticism of the timeline for Australia’s next generation of submarines, saying Tony Abbott’s comments do not align with the views of defence experts.
The defence white paper draft documents, which related to the status of a submarine project, are now the subject of a criminal investigation after being referred to the Australia Federal Police (AFP) by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Former PM Tony Abbott commented on the leaked documents in an exclusive interview with The Australian newspaper this week, leading some in the party to believe he was responsible.
But, the former prime minister has denied being the source of the leak.
In the article, Mr Abbott said he was “flabbergasted” by a potential decade-long blowout in the timeline for the submarines to come into use.
On Friday morning, Mr Turnbull said Mr Abbott was entitled to express his views.
“He’s got to form his own judgement about his comments,” Mr Turnbull said.
“He made some remarks during the week about submarines, which were commented on and, in fact, were contradicted by the of the Chief of Defence and the secretary of the Defence Department.
“The simple reality is this, the expert advice to the Australian Government on the submarine program and as to its timing has been consistent since 2013.
“Tony expressed a different perspective, but the people giving the government advice for that period made the facts plain.”
He said the government would rely “exclusively” on the advice from experts in the Defence Force.
Members of the Liberal Party including Julie Bishop and Philip Ruddock have expressed their anger at the defence white paper leaked this week.
Those in the party who were angry at Mr Abbott also saw commenting on the leak as ‘confirming its substance’.
“In relation to security matters, you don’t comment either to confirm or deny. It’s inappropriate,” senior Liberal Philip Ruddock told Fairfax Media on Friday from his post as special envoy for human rights in Geneva.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop described the leak, which forecasted the completion of submarines in the early 2030s rather than Mr Abbott’s preferred mid-2020s, as a “criminal offence”.
Meanwhile, fellow Liberal MP Christopher Pyne defended Tony Abbott on Friday morning.
“I wouldn’t raise matters like the leak with Mr Abbott because I wouldn’t immediately assume it was him,” Mr Pyne told the Nine Network on Friday.
Mr Pyne said only a handful of MPs had access to the leaked document, but refused to reveal who they were.
Liberal backbencher Dennis Jensen said the story was a media beat-up and journalists were going “way over the top”.
“It’s a nice, interesting news story but there’s nothing happening internally,” he told ABC radio.
Turnbull ‘paralysed by losing popularity’
Meanwhile, speaking to reporters on Friday morning, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten accused Mr Turnbull of being “paralysed by a worry about losing popularity”.
“You’ve got Tony Abbott, an insurgent former prime minister concerned that Malcolm Turnbull is trashing his legacy and what has happened is Malcolm Turnbull is gradually getting corralled and moved into bringing down a budget which just allows for a lot of cuts,” Mr Shorten said.
“It’s time for Malcolm Turnbull to explain his economic terms to Australia.”
He said Mr Turnbull had “a lot of explaining to do”.
When asked when Labor would be revealing its full tax policy, Mr Shorten said “Labor would do what the Liberals haven’t in 30 years”.
Rising tensions between Mr Abbott and his successor this week culminated in an awkward dinner at parliament house.
In pair was sat opposite each other along with their wives at a dinner celebrating the 20th anniversary of John Howard’s government, proving amusing media fodder.
– with AAP