Malcolm Turnbull and key Coalition figures have slammed Tony Abbott’s “sad” attack on the government amid speculation the former Liberal leader is plotting a return to the top job.
Mr Abbott said Australian conservatives see the Coalition as “Labor lite”, and its base will desert it for One Nation unless it shifts further to the right.
Speaking on Sky News on Thursday night, Mr Abbott called for a halt to all new spending, cutting immigration, ending renewable energy subsidies, scrapping the Human Rights Commission and reforming the Senate.
Mr Turnbull hit back on Friday saying that he at least had “had the courage not just to give speeches, but to act”, in a clear swipe at Mr Abbott’s time in the top job.
“The fact is my government has a record of achievement. In the last six months or so since the election, we have achieved more with fewer seats in the Senate, in the House, than in the previous three years,” Mr Turnbull said at a press conference on Friday.
“We are acting and we’re getting things done. We’re getting things done that we couldn’t or wouldn’t or didn’t get done in the last Parliament,”
He later told 3AW radio: “He knows exactly what he’s doing. I’m not going to go into what private conversations I have with him.”
Mr Turnbull also described Mr Abbott’s comments as “sad” and referred to it not as a speech or statement, but an “outburst”.
He also praised the comments made by Coalition frontbencher Mathias Cormann, who told Sky News he was saddened by Mr Abbott’s “self-indulgent” comments.
Senator Cormann, a former Abbott supporter, condemned the former PM’s comments, saying he “can’t see any scenario” in which he would return to the leadership.
“He’s not helping our cause, he’s not helping our country, he’s not helping himself,” Senator Cormann said.
“Much of what he says is either wrong or inconsistent with what he did when he was prime minister.
“The party room doesn’t share Tony’s views, the party room is strongly united behind the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull.”
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) February 23, 2017
Mr Abbott defended his comments on Channel Nine.
“I’m not in the business of taking pot shots at my colleagues,” he said.
“My duty now is to keep us on the right track.”
‘Focusing on bread and butter issues’
Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne laid into his former leader.
Speaking on Sky News, Mr Pyne said politicians often get inconsistent, ill informed advice.
“He says that we should freeze immigration, yet when he was the prime minister he had record levels of immigration,” he said.
“He says we should cut taxes and yet when he was the prime minster he increased taxes …
“He says we should slash spending and yet when he was prime minister in 2014 he attempted to slash spending and all he did was create zombie bills that couldn’t pass through the Senate.
“When you’re throwing stones, it’s important to not stand in a glass house and that seems to be what Tony Abbott has done.”
Sky News has reported that Mr Abbott told Liberal defector Cory Bernardi last year that he hoped to return to Liberal leadership, but would not force a leadership spill for Malcolm Turnbull’s job.
Mr Abbott’s repeated criticism of the Coalition is at odds with his affirmation when he was ousted in 2015.
“My pledge today is to make this change as easy as I can,” Mr Abbott said at the time.
“There will be no wrecking, no undermining, and no sniping. I’ve never leaked or backgrounded against anyone. And I certainly won’t start now.”
On Thursday night, Mr Abbott said the government needed to find policies that were “philosophically acceptable, economically responsible and politically saleable” to conservatives.
“Why not say to the people of Australia: ‘we’ll cut the [Renewable Energy Target], to help with your power bills; we’ll cut immigration, to make housing more affordable; we’ll scrap the Human Rights Commission, to stop official bullying; we’ll stop all new spending, to end ripping off our grandkids; and we’ll reform the Senate to have government, not gridlock’,” he said.
— The Bolt Report (@theboltreport) February 23, 2017
Mr Abbott also criticised Mr Turnbull for choosing to live in his waterfront mansion rather than the official prime ministerial residence, suggesting he was being a “burden on the taxpayer” by not downsizing to Kirribilli House.
“The advice I got back in early 2014 was that if I stayed at Forrestville it would cost an extra million a year in security,” he said.
“I thought then I was really obliged to live in the house that the taxpayer provides for the Prime Minister.”
Mr Abbott said it would be a “better look” for both the Prime Minister and the Government if Mr Turnbull moved to Kirribilli House.