Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s loyalists have hit back at former prime minister Tony Abbott, accusing him of undermining Mr Turnbull and pushing for policies that he never had the courage to implement as leader.
In his latest foray against the Federal Government, Mr Abbott laid down a manifesto of ideas which he said could restore confidence in politics and help the Coalition win the next election.
He has called on the Government to build a coal-fired power station, freeze the Renewable Energy Target (RET) and reduce the rate of immigration.
Mr Turnbull said it was not the first time Mr Abbott had made the comments and sought to downplay suggestions there were tensions within the Coalition.
“We’re a very collegiate and consultative Government,” he said.
Abbott’s address ‘a stump speech’
But Mr Turnbull’s backers are clearly fed up.
Senior sources have told the ABC “the RET in place today is actually Abbott’s RET” and pointed to comments Mr Abbott made in 2015 that the target would “put downward pressure on electricity prices while also providing certainty for the industry”.
They have described Mr Abbott’s address to the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) as a “stump speech that either he didn’t have the courage to do when he was PM or in fact did the complete opposite”.
Crossbench senator Derryn Hinch has also weighed in, saying he believes “there are senior people in the Abbott camp leaking directly to [Opposition Leader] Bill Shorten”.
“They want to bring down Malcolm Turnbull, they don’t care if they lose the next election,” Senator Hinch told Sky News.
“The conservatives are working hard to bring him down.”
Abbott’s behaviour infuriating MPs, frustrating Turnbull
Mr Abbott’s speech also included thinly veiled criticism of Mr Turnbull, from his communication style to his willingness to compromise to get major policies, like Gonski 2.0, through the Senate.
“The risk with compromises designed to end policy wars is that the war doesn’t actually end — the battleground just shifts, and in the meantime, principles have become negotiable and the whole political spectrum has moved in the wrong direction,” Mr Abbott said.
Despite promising there would be “no wrecking, no undermining and no sniping” after losing the prime ministership in 2015, Mr Abbott has consistently waded back into the political fray to defend his legacy, criticise the Government’s performance or push a conservative agenda.
And he has openly acknowledged there is “long-term bad blood” between himself and Treasurer Scott Morrison after he voted for Mr Turnbull in the leadership spill.
Mr Abbott’s behaviour has infuriated some of his colleagues — who like to point out he does not have many backers within the conservative faction — and frustrated Mr Turnbull, who struggles to find clear air.
But Mr Turnbull will need to find a way of dealing with a predecessor who has made it clear he is in no hurry to leave public life.