Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has taken credit for much of the Turnbull government’s approach, arguing the looming election will be fought on his government’s record.
Mr Abbott told Sky News on Monday night that the Turnbull government was seeking election on the record of the Abbott government, including “stopping the boats, finalising the free trade agreements, our strong national security policy and now of course our workplace relations policy”.
“It’s very easy for me to campaign for the election of the Turnbull government because the Turnbull government is running on the Abbott government’s record because it’s a very strong record,” he said.
But Mr Turnbull hit back on Monday morning, telling ABC’s AM program that Mr Abbott was “not right in that sense”.
“The bottom line is there is continuity and there is change,” Mr Turnbull said.
“There are many policies that have been announced and many initiatives that have been undertaken that were either not policies or not being pursued by Mr Abbott.”
Mr Turnbull also pointed to the Senate voting changes, media law reform and the focus on innovation as other examples.
“There was not a comprehensive innovation agenda under the Abbott government; there is now under the Turnbull Government,” he said.
Employment Minister Michaelia Cash also focused on the phrase “continuity and change” when she was questioned about Mr Abbott’s comments.
“We have continuity in terms of a Coalition government, but also policies that are very much Malcolm Turnbull,” she said.
“We will be campaigning on Coalition government policies, but we’ll also be campaigning on the agenda of the Turnbull Government, which I believe is also clear.”
Senator Cash said Mr Abbott was an effective member of the government who was entitled to give his point of view.
A number of media commentators have already picked up on the “continuity and change” line, pointing out the similarity with a campaign slogan used in the fictional US political comedy Veep.
Earlier on Monday night, Mr Turnbull argued on ABC’s 7.30 report that there had been significant change since he replaced Mr Abbott.
“Firstly, we dealt with Senate voting reform — that was not on the agenda and it’s done,” he said.
“Secondly, we have a cities policy. We are not limiting our support in cities and generally to roads, we are supporting mass transit and public transport,” Mr Turnbull said.
He also cited media ownership and innovation.
“Right across the board — between Tony and myself, Tony Abbott and myself — there is continuity,” Mr Turnbull said.
“Of course, I was part of his government, part of his cabinet but there is also a great deal of change. So, as you go from one Liberal prime minister to another, you have continuity and you have change and there has been a lot of change.”
‘Stop the boats’ is Howard’s legacy
Mr Turnbull singled out Mr Abbott’s focus on achievements in stopping asylum seeker boats from reaching Australia.
Mr Turnbull said it was another example of continuity and change, pointing out the policy was a legacy of former Liberal prime minister John Howard.
“Our policy on stopping the people smugglers was to reinstate the policy of the Howard government, of which we were both Cabinet ministers,” he told radio station 3AW.
When asked if Mr Abbott would be a plus or minus for the election campaign, Mr Turnbull was non-committal.
“I’ll leave that to others to comment; it depends what he says, frankly,” Mr Turnbull said.
“Whether it’s a plus or a minus depends entirely on the nature of his contribution.”