- Malcolm Turnbull looks at February reshuffle
- Minister Jamie Briggs quits ministry
- Jamie Briggs, an ambitious MP who overstepped the mark
- Minister Mal Brough stands aside
Malcolm Turnbull is being urged to restore former prime minister Tony Abbott to a prominent frontbench position when the Prime Minister reshuffles his ministry - most likely in February following the resignations of junior ministers Jamie Briggs and Mal Brough.
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Eric Abetz: Return Abbott to ministry
Liberal senator Eric Abetz suggests that Tony Abbott should be restored to a prominent frontbench position in Malcolm Turnbull's upcoming ministry reshuffle. Courtesy ABC NewsRadio.
Mr Briggs' career as a junior minister ended on Tuesday when he resigned, revealing he had been involved in a late-night incident with a female public servant in a bar in Hong Kong where he was visiting in his capacity as Cities Minister late last month.
Mr Briggs was partying with his chief of staff, Stuart Eaton, at the time. He said he did nothing illegal, but resigned after accepting it was an "error of professional judgment" after the public servant lodged a complaint about his behaviour.
Mr Turnbull used the cover of Mr Briggs' sensational revelations to announce that Mr Brough would be standing aside as Special Minister of State because of the ongoing police investigation into the James Ashby affair, after weeks of sustained pressure from Labor in Parliament.
Acting Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek said Mr Brough's departure was the more significant of the two and questioned why Mr Turnbull had waited so long to drop his beleaguered minister. "This incident certainly shows a lack of judgment," she said.
Conservative Senator Eric Abetz, who was dropped from the cabinet in Mr Turnbull's September reshuffle, said on Wednesday when politicians "mucked up" it was their families who suffered the most.
"I feel extremely for the families of the two gentlemen involved, we in politics, we are the volunteers, we're the ones who go into battles, but when we muck up it is the families and children that suffer," Senator Abetz told the ABC on Wednesday.
Senator Abetz urged Mr Turnbull to heal the divisions caused by the September coup and said restoring Mr Abbott to the cabinet would be important for unity within the Liberal Party.
"I hope that he stays in the Parliament and I hope that there will be a place for him, a prominent place for him in a future ministry, should he decide to stay ... and I think the Australian people would welcome that," he said.
"Just as much as when other leaders have been deposed they have been rehabilitated into cabinet or shadow cabinet and I think that is important for the unity of the party, if that is at all possible."
Speaking to reporters later on Wednesday, Senator Abetz said Mr Abbott "has a wealth of experience to offer the nation in any role in which he might seek to serve".
I think if Tony Abbott were to go back in the Cabinet that would be a good way to heal the wounds of the past.Nationals Senator John Williams
"It is up to the Prime Minister to determine who will serve in his ministry and, of course, Mr Abbott still needs to make up his mind whether or not he wishes to remain in the Parliament," Senator Abetz said.
"I don't want to pre-empt or be seen as trying to coerce the Prime Minister into any course of action. I simply objectively make the observation that … the former Prime Minister has a wealth of experience that is available to the nation and I hope that he makes it available and I hope the Prime Minister avails himself of that if those circumstances merge."
Federal minister Jamie Briggs quits
In an uncomfortable press conference, Minister for Cities Jamie Briggs quits Malcolm Tunbull's frontbench over an incident in a Hong Kong with a female public servant. (Vision courtesy of ABC News 24)
Senator Abetz said Mr Turnbull and his predecessor were professionals who had long worked together in politics and "I'm sure they'd be able to put their differences aside and serve the nation".
He said Mr Abbott would "have the support of a lot of Australians" should he resurrect his cabinet career, adding that only junior ministries were available.
"A former prime minister might be worthy of a greater role than junior minister," he said.
Nationals Senator John Williams backed Senator Abetz's call, describing Mr Abbott as a man of experience and compassion.
"I think if Tony Abbott were to go back in the cabinet that would be a good way to heal the wounds of the past," Senator Williams told ABC Radio National.
Speculation is mounting that Mr Turnbull will reshuffle his frontbench in February after Nationals Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss makes a decision on his own future. Many Nationals privately believe Mr Truss, the Infrastructure Minister, will retire, paving the way for Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce to become Nationals leader.
"If Warren is to make an announcement that he's going to stand down, and that's a big if ... then of course that would be a time for a reshuffle, but that might not eventuate," Senator Williams said.
If Mr Joyce were to keep his own portfolio it would leave open a cabinet vacancy and the two junior ministerial positions vacated by Mr Briggs and Mr Brough. Currently their responsibilities are being divided between Environment Minister Greg Hunt, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and Defence Minister Marise Payne.
Mr Turnbull's first cabinet line-up, announced in September after he toppled Mr Abbott as leader, was widely seen as rewarding the plotters who aided his rise to the top job, including Peter Hendy, James McGrath, Scott Ryan, Wyatt Roy and Mitch Fifield.
Conservatives in particular, smarted at the dumping of veteran cabinet ministers Kevin Andrews and Mr Abetz without elevating young up and coming right-wingers like Angus Taylor or Zed Seselja.
It means there are just two conservatives in cabinet - Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who both backed Mr Abbott as leader in September.
But there were predictions the popular Western Sydney MP and Turnbull backer, Craig Laundy, could be in line for a promotion.