Outspoken senator Cory Bernardi is reportedly preparing to leave the Liberal fold and create his own Australian Conservatives party, while Nationals MP George Christensen says he’s loyal now but might not always remain inside the tent.
Abbott has written to Liberals telling them a split would doom the party. The Australian reports him as saying: “The first duty of the leader is to keep the party together.”
Government ministers have been quick to brush off concerns about backbenchers abandoning the party.
Justice Minister Michael Keenan insists the Liberal Party is the home of conservative ideas in Australia, while Greg Hunt has reminded colleagues they were elected under the party banner to serve a full term.
But former frontbencher, Eric Abetz believes there are tough questions for the party after it “bled” votes to forces like One Nation, from its natural core constituency.
“I don’t think it is acceptable for us to say ‘business as usual, everything is hunky dory’,” he told ABC radio today.
“Why is it that since the election our position has deteriorated and I think the reason is that we are not reflecting the aspirations of the Australian people.”
Abetz nominated household budgets, job security and national security as key issues for the Coalition to focus on next year.
“It is not marriage, it is not republic,” he said.
Changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act’s section have also become a mainstream issue and should also be a priority in the new year, the former minister said.
He cited the rule of politics that “disunity is death”, urging people to – if at all possible – work within the party and system to make it work.
Former deputy Liberal leader Peter Reith argued attempts to split the party are not in the Coalition’s interest.
“I accept that there are some people who would prefer to go back to Tony (Abbott) but I think going back to Tony is really a backward step,” he told Sky News.
“You want to get Tony back – what, make Cory (Bernardi) the treasurer would you? Bring Peta Credlin back in to run the country?
“I mean seriously.”
The Howard government minister said Abbott should take a six-month holiday, noting it is the “same old crowd” within the Coalition agitating.
“Eric (Abetz) is not exactly a big name in Australian politics,” Reith said.
Labor leader Bill Shorten seized on the “civil war” within the government, saying he was trying to imagine what it would be like at the Liberal family Christmas.
“You have uncle Cory (Bernardi) in the corner, cousin George (Christensen) muttering to himself and of course you have got the ghost of Christmas past, Tony Abbott,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
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