The defence industry minister has apologised for remarks which have widened the rift between moderates and conservatives in the Turnbull government.
He caused a stir after boasting of the supremacy of his moderate Liberal faction on the sidelines of a party meeting in Sydney last Friday.
He also suggested the legalisation of same-sex marriage could occur “sooner than everyone thinks” and revealed he had voted for Turnbull at “every” leadership ballot he ran for despite being in Abbott’s leadership circle.
“I apologise to anyone they have offended. My remarks were ill chosen and unwise and I can see how unhelpful and damaging they have been,” the South Australian MP said in a statement.
Abbott said on Wednesday that Pyne’s speech, which was leaked to the media, was “remarkably ill-advised and indiscreet” and could not have come at a worse time for the government.
“I can understand why some of my colleagues might be saying his position as Leader of the House is difficult to maintain but this is a matter for the prime minister,” Abbott said.
Abbott has breathed new life into conservative forces, questioning the government’s climate policy and commitment to economic reform and urging the party to stick to its same-sex marriage plebiscite policy.
Today, he said his biggest regret as prime minister was not challenging the nuclear no-go mindset when it came to arming Australia with new submarines.
In his second major speech of the week, Abbott made the case for a plan B to the government’s decision to award a $50 billion new-fleet contract to French shipbuilder DCNS.
The company is planning to design and help build 12 conventionally-powered Shortfin Barracuda submarines for the navy.
“Not more robustly challenging the nuclear no-go mindset is probably the biggest regret I have from my time as PM,” Abbott told the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney.
Australia in a decade or so might face a security crisis in our region with inadequate means to fight back.
Abbott recalled being told Australia’s two Collins class submarines were unable to shadow a Russian naval task force when it appeared north of the country at the time of the Brisbane G20 in 2014.
“They simply couldn’t get there in time,” he said of their underwater cruising speed of just 10 knots.
Abbott praised the Turnbull government for seeing through the process he set up to choose the next submarine build.
But he questioned whether the best of the bids was chosen, given the absolute soonest the first submarine could be received was the early-2030s.
“We don’t build our jet fighters here, for instance, (although we do build parts for them) so why insist on a local build especially if there’s a big cost penalty?”
Abbott said the government should at least consider the option of nuclear-powered submarines.
“There is still a chance for further thought on this; there may even be a duty to consider plan B should the design process be further delayed or should regional tensions show little sign of abating.”
He stressed he did not want to interrupt the process underway given it had languished for so long, but a parallel discussion should be had on nuclear.
Nuclear-powered subs could stay submerged as long as the crew could endure, never have to refuel and can travel at nearly 40 knots, Abbott said.
He predicted if a strong national security case was to be made for nuclear, it would at least get a fair hearing under the present Labor leadership.
“Like everyone, I hope that our country is never challenged and that our submarines never have to fight,” he said.
“But the stronger we are, the more likely it is that we will live our lives in comparative peace.”
Turnbull, who hails from the moderate faction, sought on Wednesday to declared himself a champion of conservative issues.
– with AAP
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