Liberal Party elders have condemned Tony Abbott’s role in bringing down the Turnbull government, saying the former prime minister’s behaviour has been “lamentable”.
Conservative supporters of Mr Abbott have also told the ABC’s Four Corners that he had “unfinished business” and he actively contributed to the volatile climate in today’s Liberal Party.
Former foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer said the party has been wracked by bitterness since Malcolm Turnbull rolled Mr Abbott as prime minister.
“That in turn can lead to acts of attempted revenge,” he said.
Mr Downer said Mr Turnbull was right to exclude Mr Abbott from the frontbench after the 2015 leadership spill, a move that others say further contributed to the party turmoil.
“I don’t think Tony Abbott’s mindset was the mindset of playing in the team led by Malcolm Turnbull, in all honesty,” Mr Downer said.
“So I’m not sure that it was a mistake to exclude him from the Cabinet.”
The fallout from last week’s chaos has been reflected in the Newspoll result in the Australian that shows Coalition support plummeting and Labor leading 56 to 44 on a two party preferred basis.
Mr Abbott famously pledged not to wreck, undermine or snipe against Mr Turnbull, but former Liberal Party treasurer Michael Yabsley told Four Corners Mr Abbott has done just that.
“What Tony has done is really regrettable, lamentable. Tony made something of a statesman-like speech when Malcolm defeated him for the leadership … He has not delivered on that,” he said.
“On the contrary, he has destabilised. He has really done everything he could to make things as difficult as possible for Malcolm Turnbull.”
Supporter says Abbott ‘maintained agitation’
Conservative Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, a signatory to the petition that would essentially dethrone Mr Turnbull, said Mr Abbott has maintained his anger over the leadership loss.
“Tony has been very active in maintaining a degree of agitation about his position. I think that that has continued to accumulate,” she said.
“For Tony, this is unfinished business and he’s got his agenda. Certainly Tony has contributed to a degree of intense debate, if I can put it in those terms. But it’s a much more volatile political situation than it used to be, and certainly Tony has very effectively appealed to the conservative base of the Liberal Party.
“I’m not apportioning blame either way, I think that there is a sense by some in the party that there is unfinished business, and this is now manifesting itself in the degree of instability that we are now seeing.”
Current Liberal Party president, Nick Greiner, is critical of the former leader’s behaviour.
“He chose to not leave which of course I, and most people, think previous prime ministers ought to do. He chose not to do that. He’s obviously behaved in the way that everyone in Australia can see, and he’s had some help from a few reasonably rabid members of your profession [the media],” he said.
Mr Greiner was also critical of sections of the media and the party for working against Mr Turnbull.
“There would appear to have been a considered long-term campaign,” he said.
“There’s been a concerted co-ordinated campaign between a very, very small number of members of the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party and frankly a pretty small number of media that are concentrated in a handful of outlets or newspapers.
“In my 30 or 40 years in public life I don’t remember a more blatant media campaign.
“That’s I think one of the distinguishing features of this period is that the media, or substantial elements probably of the media have chosen not to just comment on the usual argy bargy of politics, but have actually been active participants in a campaign against the prime minister.”
A country without vision, Kennett says
Former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett told Four Corners both Mr Turnbull and Mr Abbott were to blame.
“Everyone blames Tony and I understand that, but it goes back to when Tony defeated Malcolm Turnbull in Opposition by one vote and that laid the seeds to this continuing hostility between them both. So they’re both responsible,” he said.
Mr Kennett said part of the problem is that Australia is now a country with no direction.
“We are a country without a vision and those who are in Canberra and those who lead the organisations I believe have got to accept responsibility for that and what we’ve seen over the last week and what we saw with Rudd and Gillard and Gillard and Abbott and Abbott and Turnbull is the refection of a country without direction,” he said.