Tony Abbott is doing a very good job in derailing the daily messages of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and criticising his government, but the PM and his ministers are trying their best to avoid talking about Tony -- and they're deploying footy metaphors.
Abbott, who was dumped as PM for Turnbull back in 2015, promised "no wrecking, no undermining and no sniping" when he left the top job, but he's been doing all three in recent weeks as he openly questions the direction of the country, outlines his own six-point "plan to win the next election", and regularly appears on radio and TV giving not-so-veiled criticisms of the government. The dawn of each new day seemingly brings a new Abbott story, and journalists are only too eager to press ministers and government MPs on their reaction to Tony's latest thought bubble.
Well, it seems Turnbull and his team have finally had enough, and they're doing their best to avoid even answering any Abbott questions.
On Monday morning, the PM was in Sydney talking up a new jobs announcement with employment minister Michaelia Cash and local MP Trent Zimmerman. After excitedly outlining the news, Turnbull opened up to some questions from the gathered media.
"This morning on radio..." began the very first question, which was to ask about Abbott's appearance on 2GB on Monday where he claimed the Liberal Party was "hemorrhaging members". before the journalist was swiftly cut off.
"Can I just, can I stop you, do we have some questions on youth unemployment on the Path program, on small business?" Turnbull asked, a hint of exasperation in his voice.
Soon after, though, the questions turned to Abbott again, and the PM couldn't avoid this one.
"The only personalities I'm interested in are 24 million Australians," he said, delivering what has become his stock answer when asked about the clash of personalities between himself and his predecessor, before deftly swerving his answer into a critique of Labor leader Bill Shorten and a dig at the union movement.
It was the same answer Turnbull gave in Cooma last week. He travelled down south to talk about his Snowy Hydro 2.0 plan, but again, the journalists all wanted to press him on the latest Abbott attack. Again, Turnbull wasn't having it.
Last week Turnbull also took a swipe at the media for focusing on "gossipy stories", saying he wasn't interested in playing into the speculation.
"It is delivering on the substance and that's what I'm doing. That is how I respect 24 million Australians who I lead, rather than playing to all of the gossip and the clip-bait journalism that you see so prevalent," he said.
"It is very often fake news... and you know. I'm sure they get more clicks than politics, but nonetheless it's sensationalism and a lot of it is fake."
The PM isn't the only one forced into some awkward answers about Abbott, though. Also on Monday, treasurer Scott Morrison gave a press conference to talk about the latest housing data. Again, the questions went to Abbott -- and Morrison, a proud Cronulla man, started talking about his beloved Sharks NRL team.
"Do you feel that Tony Abbott has been too vocal and what would you like to see?" a journalist asked.
Morrison gave a doozy of an answer.
"We will continue to work together. Sharks beat Roosters 44-12 on the weekend, great game up there in Gosford. It shows what you can do when you hold onto the ball, have your completions -- 19 completions in the first half," the treasurer said, rattling off some stats about the game.
"Outstanding result. Flanno [Sharks coach Shane Flanagan] was able to get the boys focusing on what was happening in front of them and it is no different for a Government. That is exactly what we are doing, the leadership our Prime Minister is showing. He is not distracted. We are not distracted. We are totally focused on the things that Australians are focused on -- power prices."
Leaving aside the linguistic gymnastics needed to pivot from Abbott to footy to good government and then power prices, the metaphor was admittedly not bad.
"I'm really not interested in [leadership speculation] and neither are Australians. I am interested in being a Liberal member of parliament serving my community. That is what I'm focused on," Morrison said later.
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