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Liberals blame Abbott for poll slide

Politics

Government MPs from the prime minister down have reacted with rare frankness to the Coalition's worst Newspoll result in two years.

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And nearly all of them are pointing the finger at former prime minister Tony Abbott and his supporters.

Labor has opened a 10-point lead over the Coalition as voters desert the government for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.

“Are those polls bad for us? Yes, they are,” Liberal backbencher Craig Laundy told reporters at Parliament House today.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the effect of Abbott’s “calculated” critique of the government last week was entirely predictable.

“What we saw was an outburst … and it had its desired impact on the Newspoll,” he told reporters.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who took Abbott to task last week over his comments, put the result down to the Coalition focusing on itself.

“It’s not a surprise after the internal conversation we’ve had through the media in recent days,” he told ABC radio.

“People mark us down for that.”

Treasurer Scott Morrison said the government could not afford to be distracted by personalities and “all that sort of stuff”.

The latest Newspoll coincided with reports a group of conservative Liberal MPs, calling themselves “the deplorables”, sought to undermine Turnbull after last year’s close election.

The MPs held regular phone hook-ups which were instigated by Abbott and one of his strongest supporters Senator Eric Abetz, The Australian reported.

The pair chaired meetings that included directives to junior MPs to use the media to pressure the Turnbull government on issues such as Safe Schools and amending section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

They also sought to position conservative MPs for a fight over same-sex marriage if Turnbull moved to a free vote once the plebiscite was defeated in parliament, arguing any change of policy would be a leadership issue.

The Australian named other MPs involved in the group as Kevin Andrews, Michael Sukker, Rick Wilson, Andrew Hastie, Zed Seselja, Ian Goodenough, Cory Bernardi, Nicolle Flint, Jonathon Duniam, Craig Kelly, Scott Buchholz and Tony Pasin.

The group also pushed for Abbott’s return to cabinet.

Veteran Liberal MP Warren Entsch hopes Abbott reflects on his time as prime minister as federal parliament resumes in Canberra.

“I would suggest that Mr Abbott reflect on his own period as prime minister before he starts throwing mud at other colleagues. He was actually given a lifeline and he gave himself six months probation and he failed,” he told reporters.

Fellow backbencher Andrew Laming said Abbott had gone too far with his critique of the government.

“Once you go on a speaking tour, once you start seeking out friendly right wing TV, once you start flogging your view basically against the minister of the day, that’s where it crosses the line,” he said.

His advice to Abbott is: “Keep writing and do less news media calls flogging your ideas.”

Disaffected voters have pushed Pauline Hanson’s One Nation to 10 per cent of the primary vote, more than doubling the minor party’s support since November.

– AAP

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