Australia PM Abbott under fresh fire for quips on terror suspects, 'holocaust' of job losses

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott came under fire on Feb 13, 2015, over controversial comments on the arrest of two terror suspects and for referring to a "holocaust" of job losses, capping a horror week. -- PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott came under fire on Feb 13, 2015, over controversial comments on the arrest of two terror suspects and for referring to a "holocaust" of job losses, capping a horror week. -- PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott came under fire on Friday over controversial comments on the arrest of two terror suspects and for referring to a "holocaust" of job losses, capping a horror week.

Mr Abbott began the first parliamentary week of the year fighting for his job after poor poll ratings, a series of policy backflips and perceived high-handed decision making saw MPs from his conservative Liberal Party force a confidence vote. He survived the "spill" motion on Monday and promised "good government" from that point on with the 39 of the 102 Liberal parliamentarians who tried to oust him grudgingly agreeing to give the unpopular leader a second chance. But he has stumbled since, handing his detractors more ammunition.

On Friday, he was forced to defend himself after revealing in Parliament a day earlier the contents of a video allegedly made by two men charged with terrorism offences. Lawyers said the details and his remark that it was "monstrous extremism", made under parliamentary privilege, could prejudice a future trial of Omar Al-Kutobi, 24, and Mohammad Kiad, 25. "What could happen is that the court could find it impossible to have a jury empanelled who was not affected by the comments," New South Wales Bar Association president Jane Needham said.

Mr Abbott was also criticised for labelling job losses under the Labor opposition a "holocaust" as he faced questions over the government's economic plans. He later apologised and withdrew the remark after Labor frontbencher Mark Dreyfus said: "Comments like this should have no place in Australian political debate and should never have been made in the first place."

Mr Abbott's office defended his disclosures.

"The Prime Minister quoted the translation with the prior consent of the commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, Andrew Colvin," a spokesman said.

In a trying week, Mr Abbott has also had to deal with a damning report into asylum-seeker children in detention and fend off questions over the government's economic credentials after the unemployment rate in January rose to a near 13-year high of 6.4 per cent.

Australian newspapers had little sympathy.

"The days since Monday's vote have shown Abbott still has a talent for accidental injuries," wrote Mr David Crowe, political correspondent for conservative-leaning broadsheet The Australian.

"Abbott's message is that he has listened, learned and changed. But he has given his MPs nothing to feed their hopes."

Fairfax Media's chief political correspondent Mark Kenny had a similar take.

"Only a minority of his colleagues believe he can recover to win (the election) in 2016," he said.