Former prime minister John Howard has praised his former minister, now Prime Minister, Tony Abbott's start in the job.

Former prime minister John Howard has praised his former minister, now Prime Minister, Tony Abbott's start in the job. Photo: Joe Armao

Former prime minister John Howard has defended his successor, Tony Abbott, arguing that the new Coalition government is "not some carry-over" of the Howard years.

Mr Howard said that, while he and Mr Abbott talked "fairly frequently", the new Prime Minister was his "own man".

"He's running the first Abbott government. He's not running  some carry-over of the Howard government. It ended in 2007," he told Radio National.

Mr Howard gave a rare interview on Wednesday morning in response to Peter Cosgrove's appointment as Governor-General.

General Cosgrove led peacekeeping efforts in East Timor under Mr Howard's prime ministership and was then promoted to head the Australian Defence Force during that time.

In the interview, Mr Howard advocated for the re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission – the building watchdog established under his government that was abolished by former prime minister Julia Gillard in 2012 – although he conceded it would probably not happen until the new Senate was sworn in later this year.

Along with re-establishing the ABCC, in the first months of his prime ministership, Mr Abbott has also sought to revive other Howard-era policies, including the work-for-the-dole scheme and turning back asylum seeker boats.

But Mr Howard insisted that this did not divert from Mr Abbott setting his own agenda in the top job, "because they were good policies".

The former prime minister also insisted that his protege was not running a copy-cat government. "Most of the other things he's talking about implementing are policies he inaugurated," he said.

Mr Howard also opined that Mr Abbott was performing well as Prime Minister.

"I think he's made a great start," he said.

The former prime minister said that Mr Abbott appeared to have been "enormously successful thus far" in stopping asylum seeker boats.

He argued that it was important for the government to control its borders to ensure public support for high levels of immigration, which Australia needed.

"The more people think the borders are being controlled, the more supportive they are in the long term, of higher levels of immigration," he said.

Mr Howard played down recent concerns about the health of Australia's relationship with Indonesia, arguing it had always had its "ups and downs".

Riffing on his famous phrase about deciding "who comes to this country, he said: "Every country does have the right and I know I've used an expression about this before ... but every country does have the right to decide the composition, the manner and the timing of the flow of people."

Mr Howard also dismissed speculation that he had been in the running to be the next Governor-General, saying: "I am a very contented private citizen, occasionally making comments when it's appropriate."

Follow us on Twitter