Australian PM rejects predecessor's 'outburst'

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Former Australian prime minister Tony AbbottImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Tony Abbott says Australia's governing party should be more conservative

Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull has dismissed a provocative critique from his predecessor, Tony Abbott, that their party risks losing government.

Mr Turnbull ousted Mr Abbott in 2015 to lead the centre-right Liberal Party.

In a speech on Thursday, Mr Abbott criticised the government for not being conservative enough as he outlined new policies it could take to an election.

Mr Turnbull described Mr Abbott's remarks as an "outburst", saying he "knows exactly what he's doing".

"Every member of the government has got to ask the question, are they contributing to the success of the government?" Mr Turnbull said.

One government frontbencher said he was "flabbergasted" by Mr Abbott's speech, insisting the party was united behind Mr Turnbull.

Mr Abbott's criticism

Launching a book called Making Australia Right, Mr Abbott said the government needed to cut immigration, halt new spending and end renewable energy subsidies.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Mr Turnbull says his government has a "record of achievement"

He called on it to scrap the Human Rights Commission, which monitors rights in Australia, and reform the Senate to make it harder to block government legislation.

"Many of the people who normally support coalition governments aren't happy," Mr Abbott said.

"In or out of government, political parties need a purpose. Our politics can't just be a contest of toxic egos or someone's vanity project," he said.

He said the government had become "Labor-lite", a reference to the centre-left opposition, and warned Liberal voters would turn to the far-right One Nation Party.

As evidence, he pointed to Australia's declining education standards, high labour costs, electricity prices and Sydney's expensive housing market.

Analysis - Jay Savage, BBC News, Sydney

Immediately after being unseated by Mr Turnbull in 2015, Mr Abbott pledged not to make his successor's life difficult.

"There will be no wrecking, no undermining, and no sniping," he said. "I've never leaked or backgrounded against anyone. And I certainly won't start now."

That vow is over, judging by his latest comments.

Australia is used to parties deposing prime ministers from within - Labor also did it in 2010 and 2013.

Mr Abbott's comments fuel speculation he is planning another tilt, but has he also alienated his party?

Mr Turnbull rejected his predecessor's comments as "sad", insisting his government had a "record of achievement".

"Over the last six months or so, since the election, we have achieved more with fewer seats than we did in the previous three years," he told reporters on Friday.

Government frontbenchers went further, with one calling Mr Abbott's comments "self-indulgent" and "destructive".

"He's not helping our cause, he's not helping our country, he's not helping himself," Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told Sky News Australia.

"The party room doesn't share Tony's views, the party room is strongly united behind the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull."

Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said Mr Abbott's call to cut immigration "would be catastrophic in places like Northern Territory, South Australia, Tasmania, [and] most places outside the capital cities."

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the comments proved the government was dysfunctional.