Former prime minister Tony Abbott has ignored repeated peace offerings by senior colleagues Julie Bishop and Christopher Pyne since his downfall as leader, a new book claims, in further signs of damaging disunity within the government just months out from a federal election.
The book by political commentator Niki Savva, The Road to Ruin, How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin destroyed their own government, also alleges Mr Abbott slapped the buttocks of his chief of staff Peta Credlin, not realising a minister witnessed the behaviour. Fairfax Media has independently verified this account.
This is a 'critical part of Australian political history': Savva
Political commentator Niki Savva discusses her new book The Road to Ruin, How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin destroyed their own government on the ABC's Insiders program. Vision courtesy ABC News 24.
Mr Abbott and Ms Credlin both deny any romantic involvement. They have accused Savva of unethical journalism, complaining she did not put any claims to them before publishing.
There have been growing signs that the relationship between Mr Abbott and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is deteriorating, including last week when Mr Abbott said he was "flabbergasted" by what he saw as a late delivery timeline for a future submarine fleet.
Mr Turnbull publicly told his predecessor he would not hesitate to correct the record if false statements were made regarding government policy.
On Sunday Attorney-General George Brandis said Mr Abbott was determined not to repeat the animosity of the Rudd-Gillard years, saying Mr Abbott had "no respect for that kind of politics" and would do "everything he possibly can" to secure the government's re-election.
However Savva's book reveals an ongoing breakdown in relations between Mr Abbott and Foreign Affairs Minister Bishop, who, along with Treasurer Scott Morrison, it says Mr Abbott blames for his downfall.
Ms Bishop has been accused of failing to warn Mr Abbott as soon as she knew the September coup was imminent – a claim she denies.
"Abbott and Bishop did not speak to each other again, neither that day, nor – at the time of writing of this book – since," Savva wrote.
"They did subsequently exchange texts. She texted him first, seeking a rapprochement, but his response left her in no doubt that he wasn't interested."
The book says Mr Abbott continued to rail against Mr Morrison and Ms Bishop in private conversations with old allies, following the spill.
It claims right wing MPs may forgive Mr Morrison in time but "are not prepared to forgive Bishop. They are building for an assault on her position as deputy after the 2016 election".
Ms Credlin is quoted as repeatedly referring to Ms Bishop, the deputy Liberal leader, as "Lady Macbeth" – Shakespeare's infamously treacherous female character.
The book also details how Mr Abbott has ignored approaches from Industry Minister Christopher Pyne, with whom he was once extremely close.
"Days after the coup, [Mr Pyne] texted Abbott, then wrote him a long letter. As this book went to press, Abbott had not responded," according to the book, to be launched on Monday.
Savva's book alleged Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, an ally of Mr Abbott, warned him that the perception he was having an affair with Ms Credlin was destroying his prime ministership.
A minister is quoted in the book saying he saw Mr Abbott slap the buttocks of Ms Credlin, not realising the pair were being watched – an account independently verified by Fairfax Media. Ms Credlin is said to have responded to the slap with a smile.
According to former staffers, Ms Credlin ran a "constipated" office which failed to properly function because of her obsession with trivial details, such as ensuring flowers in the office had enough water.
The book also recounts Ms Credlin's efforts to freeze out Mr Abbott's wife Margie, who wanted to contribute and aid her husband's public standing. It says Ms Credlin managed Mrs Abbott's involvement in government events, the prime minister's Sydney residence Kirribilli House, and even banned staff from ordering food for her.
It claims the group of MPs who plotted to evict Mr Abbott from office briefly considered asking Mrs Abbott to ask Mr Abbott to stand down, instead of face a challenge.
- With Gareth Hutchens