SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday (March 22) slapped down his predecessor Tony Abbott who dramatically intervened to claim credit for policies the government is taking to upcoming elections.
Mr Abbott, who was ousted last September in a party coup, announced the government was running on his record, in extraordinary comments reminiscent of the political anarchy that has produced five leaders in five years.
"It's very easy for me to campaign... because the Turnbull government is running on the Abbott government's record," he told Sky News late on Monday.
"It's a very strong record," he said, citing the hardline immigration policy that deterred the flow of asylum seeker boats, and a string of free trade agreements.
Mr Abbott remains in parliament but had pledged not to interfere after Mr Turnbull's takeover, promising on his departure there would be "no wrecking, no undermining, no sniping".
However, he has continued to intervene, to the delight of a hard core of right-wing lawmakers who reputedly still entertain the thought of returning him to the top job.
Mr Turnbull, who has lambasted Mr Abbott's economic management, hit back against the putdown which could spell trouble ahead of general elections which he has said could come as soon as July.
"He's not right," the prime minister said of his predecessor. "The bottom line is there is continuity and there is change."
Employment Minister Michaelia Cash issued what national broadcaster ABC described as a "veiled threat" to right-wingers considering agitating for Mr Abbott's return.
"I know what my goal is and I would hope that would be the goal of all members of the Liberal Party and that is to ensure the re-election of the Turnbull government," Ms Cash said.
Mr Turnbull is expected to win elections which could be held on July 2 - well ahead of a deadline - if parliament fails to end a deadlock over union reform legislation.
However, his support has slipped in recent weeks as promised policy changes have failed to materialise.
The latest Newspoll published on Monday in The Australian still had Mr Turnbull garnering 39 per cent satisfaction as leader, 11 percentage points ahead of Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten.