Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says Tony Abbott is at the heart of the chaos and division in the Turnbull government and he’s not going away.
Reports suggest that the former prime minister will be electioneering in marginal seats on his own tour after being snubbed of a proper campaign role in what is likely to be a July 2 double dissolution election.
“The only way you don’t get Tony Abbott is by voting Labor because Mr Turnbull can’t stop Tony Abbott,” Mr Shorten told reporters after serving lunch with his wife Chloe at Sacred Heart Mission in St Kilda on Sunday.
Mr Turnbull kept a relatively low profile on Sunday, other than attending Easter mass in his Sydney electorate of Wentworth with his wife Lucy.
Junior minister Angus Taylor has no problem with Mr Abbott making a contribution to the policy debate, as he has done for many years.
“He will carve out his own role as a backbencher which all backbenchers do in an election campaign,” Mr Taylor told Sky News.
But former Liberal leader John Hewson believes the prime minister should give him a job.
“He won’t go away, so I think you give him a role. Define the role very carefully and encourage him to be judged by his performance,” Dr Hewson told Sky News.
Dr Hewson also expressed surprise at the plaudits that Mr Turnbull is getting for his strategy to force a July 2 poll.
Rather than being a stroke of genius, he believes it is “quite high risk”.
Mr Turnbull is bringing parliament back on April 18 to have another crack at getting legislation to restore the construction watchdog through the Senate, and if this fails for a second time, as seems likely, it will be a trigger for a July 2 poll.
But Dr Hewson says if the Senate unexpectedly supports the re-introduction of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, it would delay an election to September or October.
“In the interim he has got to deal with issues like (Arthur) Sinodinos, Abbott, backbench issues and a budget that has been neutered as a pre-election budget rather than a reform budget,” Dr Hewson told Sky News on Sunday.
The government needs six of the eight cross bench senators to back the Australian Building and Construction Commission legislation, with Labor and the Greens opposing the bill.
Four have said they will support it, while the other four won’t say.
Former Labor minister Craig Emerson said it is strange that the prime minister has left the timing of the next election in the hands of four senators “who hate his guts”.
“That’s a master stroke, apparently,” Dr Emerson said.