Federal Politics

Abbott's Coalition 'not a happy family', say backbenchers

The Coalition is "not a happy family" and there is a "shitload of room for improvement" say government MPs, who confess to being in the dark regarding the future of the government's controversial GP co-payment and a mooted cabinet re-shuffle, because those decisions are centralised in the Prime Minister's office.

"We are not all a happy family ... you're going to have to ask people outside the backbench what's happening with any of the policy decisions, because there is very little inclusion," said one disgruntled backbencher.

The buck stops here

The PM dances, 'til he's had enough. By Rocco Fazzari and Denis Carnahan with apologies to Michael Jackson.

"We usually read about it in the papers. Is there resentment? Of course there is."

A wide survey of Coalition MPs by Fairfax Media revealed a mixture of anger, disappointment and loyalty in response to questions about the recent outbreak of grumbling among government members, with Treasurer Joe Hockey a particular target.

Reset: Tony Abbott during his press conference in the Prime Minister's courtyard at Parliament House on Monday.
Reset: Tony Abbott during his press conference in the Prime Minister's courtyard at Parliament House on Monday. Photo: Andrew Meares

Reports in News Corp newspapers this week have cited "growing support" within "senior ranks" for Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull to take over from Treasurer Joe Hockey.

One minister scotched the reports and poured cold water on the idea of a major re-shuffle, while admitting that "if you're this behind in the polls, people get a bit angsty".

Another Liberal MP pointed the finger at senior ministers including Scott Morrison and Julie Bishop for being "indulgent" and "putting their ambition ahead of the government", suggesting they were behind leaked criticisms of Hockey, criticisms the Treasurer acknowledged on Friday when he said that "when you have conversations with your colleagues asking them to live within their means, in their portfolios, some of them don't like it".

"It's a lot of noise from a few voices," the MP said.

Criticised: The PM's chief of staff, Peta Credlin.
Criticised: The PM's chief of staff, Peta Credlin. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Ms Bishop told Fairfax Media on Saturday: "I have absolutely not been behind any of it. I am committed to ensuring this government succeeds as a united and disciplined team."

A source close to Mr Morrison rubbished the claims and said his sole focus was on passing the legislation that reintroduced temporary protection visas.

Illustration: Matt Golding.
Illustration: Matt Golding. 

Another backbencher said that "where there has been disagreements, it's about policy, not personalities" and rejected comparisons with the turmoil of the Rudd/Gillard years.

As for a Cabinet re-shuffle, "it's really Tony and Peta's decision, there's no point pretending otherwise", the MP said, referring to the Prime Minister and his chief of staff Peta Credlin, who has been criticised for a perceived excess of power within the government.

Several MPs defended the Treasurer, who is under great pressure to pass in the Senate the two key budget savings measures of the GP co-payment, and higher education reform, worth about $7 billion, amid deteriorating revenues due to falling iron ore prices.

"I don't get the feeling people are overwhelmingly concerned," said one senior Liberal of the government's fortunes.

"There is a realisation that Joe has a very difficult job."

Another MP said the Treasurer was "a very effective, passionate communicator" who had worked hard all year managing domestic economic issues by day and preparing for the G20 summit as his "night job". One MP said that while there was "dissatisfaction with the way they budget has been sold, that hasn't translated to wanting to get rid of people".

Speaking on the ABC on Friday night, Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer Steve Ciobo dismissed the speculation about the Treasurer as "tangential sideshow issues".

But a backbencher said the government's leadership team had a "fair bit of healing to do, not only with the constituency but with their own members". 

"I have no idea where we are with the co-payment. Every time I pick up the paper there is a different position". 

Within the government there is widespread acknowledgement the GP co-payment will not pass the Senate in its current form, but an insistence that Health Minister Peter Dutton continues to negotiate with the cross-bench to get it through with amendments. One idea mooted is to grant patients a number of free doctor visits before the co-payment kicks in.