Abbott's remarks hurt govt ratings in poll: Aussie PM

Australian Prime Minister Turnbull strolling in Sydney with Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Sunday. Mr Turnbull has struggled to satisfy his party's conservative wing, which is weighing a more right-wing stance on issues such as immigration to wi
Australian Prime Minister Turnbull strolling in Sydney with Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Sunday. Mr Turnbull has struggled to satisfy his party's conservative wing, which is weighing a more right-wing stance on issues such as immigration to win over far-right voters.PHOTO: REUTERS

He says predecessor 'deliberately' sabotaged ruling Coalition as it debates shift to the right

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday launched a furious attack on his predecessor, Mr Tony Abbott, for "deliberately" sabotaging the government, as the ruling Liberal-National Coalition descended into open warfare.

Following an opinion survey yesterday which showed dwindling support for the Coalition, Mr Turnbull blamed his poor performance on a scathing public critique of the government led by Mr Abbott.

The former leader last Thursday urged Mr Turnbull to reduce spending, cut immigration and adopt more conservative policies on issues such as climate change.

The latest Newspoll survey found the Coalition trailing the Labor opposition party by 45 to 55 per cent. Mr Turnbull's approval ratings have plummeted. Just 29 per cent of voters are satisfied with his performance and 59 per cent dissatisfied, with the remainder non-committal.

As speculation swirled about the future of Mr Turnbull's leadership, the Prime Minister squarely blamed his predecessor - and long-time political foe - for his poor standing with the electorate.

"(Mr Abbott) knew exactly what he was doing and he did it," he told reporters.

  • MR TURNBULL'S APPROVAL RATINGS 

    29% of voters satisfied with his performance. 

    59% of voters dissatisfied.

"What we saw was an outburst on Thursday and it had its desired impact on the Newspoll. It was exactly as predicted and calculated."

Mr Turnbull, who is regarded as a progressive, launched a leadership coup in 2015 to depose Mr Abbott, a staunch conservative.

But Mr Turnbull's leadership has come under question after he won just a narrow one-seat victory in last year's election.

He has struggled to placate the party's conservative wing and has faced plunging approval ratings as he backed away from his own progressive views on climate change and same-sex marriage.

But he has also had to withstand an open insurrection from Mr Abbott, who decided to stay on as an MP after the last election.

Mr Turnbull chose not to give him a Cabinet position, meaning that the former leader is a mere backbencher and has been more emboldened to criticise the government.

The infighting continues the recent trend of one-upmanship in Australian politics and has echoes of the vicious feud between former Labor prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, who staged coups against each other in 2010 and 2013.

Some analysts believe that Mr Turnbull's leadership looks doomed, unless he can swiftly reverse the Coalition's poll numbers.

Still, few think that Mr Abbott has sufficient party room or public support to make a comeback.

Instead, speculation has swirled about possible successors, such as Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton or Treasurer Scott Morrison.

Analysts have pointed out that Mr Turnbull's troubles were not all the result of Mr Abbott's outburst.

The troubles facing the Coalition are also partly a result of fears of the growing political threat from One Nation, the right-wing party led by anti-migrant firebrand Pauline Hanson. The Newspoll has found that support for her party has lifted to 10 per cent.

The One Nation threat has led to an open debate within the Coalition about whether it should shift to the right, particularly on issues such as immigration and climate change.

Indeed, Mr Abbott's "outburst" last week was part of a call for the Coalition to try to prevent voters defecting to One Nation.

"Our challenge is to be worth voting for," he said. "It's to win back the people who are giving up on us."

But such open warfare appears to have only caused further voter discontent.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2017, with the headline 'Abbott's remarks hurt govt ratings in poll: Aussie PM'. Print Edition | Subscribe