CANBERRA -- Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has declared Australia’s revolving door Prime Ministership a real problem for the nation and has urged voters not to abandon the Coalition.
In his first lengthy live interview since losing the top job to Malcolm Turnbull, Abbott revealed there had been a “misconstrued” conversation on loyalty between his Chief of Staff Peta Credlin and Scott Morrison just days before the coup and he is yet to speak to the new Treasurer.
The now Liberal backbencher has told Macquarie Radio that five Prime Ministers in five years is “bad” and puts Australia in the same league as Italy and Greece.
But Abbott repeated his wish not destabilise the Turnbull Government, saying the Coalition must be returned at the next election as six Prime Ministers in six years is “hardly the face we want to present to the world or is hardly what we want to do to ourselves”.
“(In) the last four changes of Prime Minister, only one has been at the hands of the people, the other three have been at the hands of what the public would think is a backroom cabal,” he told host Ray Hadley.
“Now this is a real problem for our country.”
He said he hopes the coup a fortnight ago ends the matter.
“The difficulty with the revolving-door prime ministership is that Government can't do what is necessary for the long-term good of our country if you're subject to death by polls and then ultimately a party room coup.”
The new Prime Minister has had a honeymoon in a variety of opinion polls, but there has also been a backlash from conservative commentators and Coalition voters. 2GB host Hadley read out correspondence from listeners who wrote they felt lost and betrayed.
Abbott said he understood, but replied, "It would be terrible if people were to abandon the Coalition because of this”.
"Even if they have to do it though gritted teeth, support the Coalition, support the Prime Minister, support the Government.
“It's always better to stay in and fight as it were, it's always better to avoid making a bad situation worse.”
The admission has been mocked by acting Labor leader Penny Wong.
"Hardly a resounding endorsement," she told reporters in Adelaide.
“I think Australians deserve better than someone they are asked to vote for through gritted teeth.”
Wong said Abbott’s feelings of betrayal were obvious during the interview.
“He's pretty open about the disunity inside the Liberal Party.
“I know the government wants to paper over all of this, but it was a very divisive time and I think we'll see the reverberations of that continue.”
Abbott said he had been focused on fighting the Labor opposition, rather than watching his back from ambition within his party.
“If the leader ever starts to play internal politics, well I think the leader almost by defer in addition is in big trouble.”
But Abbott was in big trouble, facing and surviving his first leadership crisis halfway through his first team and, ultimately, being unseated just shy of two years as prime Minister.
Asked if Morrison and Deputy Liberal Leader Julie Bishop let him down by withdrawing support, Abbott took the high road.
“All I can say of both Julie and of Scott, they were extremely effective ministers in my Government,” he said.
“The last thing I want Ray to come out of this interview is a headline 'Abbott slams Morrison'.”
Abbott would not say if Morrison “misled” him or his office, but revealed a “loyalty” conversation was held on the Friday before the coup.
“Certainly there was a conversation as I understand it between Scott and Peta Credlin.
“He's obviously put one construction on the conversation, my office put a different construction on the conversation.
“Look, at some point in time no doubt we'll have a conversation and we'll resolve those things.
Throughout the year, some quarters of politics and the media urged Abbott to promote Morrison and dump his Treasurer Joe Hockey and Credlin, who was widely criticised as too controlling.
Abbott said those moves would have satisfied no one.
“This is a real myth.
“The idea that people who were hungry for advancement would somehow be mollified if Joe went or if my Chief of Staff went is just nonsense.
“When someone is absolutely focused on a particular objective, they're not going to be put off if they're thrown a few human sacrifices as it were and frankly, it's wrong to feed this particular beast.”
He described himself and Hockey, who is leaving politics, as “absolute blood brothers when it comes to economic policy” and remained just as loyal to his Chief of Staff.
“The job of the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff is to be strong, it's to be tough, it's to be focused and look she did an absolutely marvelous job.”
Abbott is to remain a backbencher for now, revealing he is likely not decide his next move until after Christmas.
“I'm too young to retire. I've still got something to contribute to public life," the 57-year-old said.
“There's not going to be a by-election in Warringah any time soon.”
Next up for Abbott, weekend surf club with the return of the famed budgie smugglers.
“If the club swim is on, boardies are just a drag, mate,” he told an amused Hadley.