Tony Names His Price For Sitting Quietly On The Government Benches


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After knocking back a diplomatic post and a clutch of untempting business offers, Tony Abbott has finally defined the price of his total support for Malcolm Turnbull policies.

It’s a job in cabinet.

Soon after being removed as Prime Minister in September last year, Mr Abbott and successor Malcolm Turnbull discussed him getting the job of High Commissioner in London — his birthplace.

Sources have told he refused the offer, saying Washington was the only post of interest and Joe Hockey had just been sent there.

Malcolm Turnbull’s office today said the Prime Minister did not comment on private conversations.

However, it is understood by a posting was among the options discussed, and dismissed.
We now know the bottom line for Mr Abbott’s co-operation with the Turnbull administration, and that is a job within it.

The former Prime Minister has made clear it is the only way he would be bound to follow government policy. He considers his post-PM role as a backbencher leaves him free to say what he wants.

Only the demands of cabinet solidarity would change that and prevent a blow-up of relations between the two men.
Without the ministry he would feel free to speak out, not just in defence of his legacy but on a range of issues which the Turnbull government might not want pushed into public debate.

Trade Minister Steven Ciobo on Sky today sniffily dismissed interest in the Abbott line as a preoccupation of the Canberra Press Gallery alone.

It was not an accurate description, as any number of Mr Ciobo’s colleagues could testify. And the Abbott cheer squad is not a creature of the Gallery.

Prominent Team Tony members — commentator Andrew Bolt and journalist Greg Sheridan don’t work from the gallery, for example, and nor does writer Cate McGregor.

The message about Mr Abbott’s price of silence was sent through a column today by Ms McGregor, a long-time friend.

Mr Abbott hadn’t dispatched her on a deliberate mission to publicly argue for a job. She was not acting as his surrogate, just as a writer looking for a topic.

But he had approved the use of the contents of a recent conversation in Ms McGregor’s Daily Telegraph column today.

“Abbott believes that only Turnbull can restore their relationship. He is the leader,” she wrote.
“He alone can ensure that Abbott is accorded the status and workload, which befits a former Prime Minister.
“Being pragmatic, Abbott actually believes that the solidarity imposed upon him by cabinet is the best insurance against his being deemed a wrecker.”

In short, he will stop being a nuisance if he gets a bigger desk.

The timing is critical.

Two weeks ago Mr Abbott damaged the Government and his own standing within it by apparently shopping

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and Justice Minister Michael Keenan on a guns-for-votes deal with Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm.

It was struck when Mr Abbott was Prime Minister but he denied knowing anything about it. Malcolm Turnbull rose in Parliament to say he did. More than awkward.

The what-to-do-about-Tony issue is uncomfortable for many Liberals who expect a tighter unity within a Government with a one-seat majority, and there are some ministers have bitter memories of working under him.

Younger ministers and ministerial hopefuls want cabinet slots to go to themselves.

And there is the question of whether cabinet solidarity would indeed contain him, or whether he would give defending his record a greater priority.

Mr Abbott’s pledge to fight for a return of the Turnbull government should be accepted as genuine. But he also wants to retain his rogue role unless found a job.

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