Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser says the Liberal Party under Tony Abbott's leadership has lost the original vision of its founder Sir Robert Menzies.
His comments came as the federal opposition leader defended his focus on the carbon tax and people-smuggling - the government's ''two biggest failures'' - as the right political strategy.
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Barnaby Joyce, Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull have all been flouting party discipline. Katharine Murphy tells Chris Hammer why.
On Wednesday, former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull was critical of the opposition's ''almost entire'' focus on people smuggling and the carbon tax in parliamentary question time over the past two years.
''Are they really the only important issues facing Australia?'' Mr Turnbull said, adding that it was not a criticism of Mr Abbott.
Mr Abbott said today that Mr Turnbull's speech was ''interesting and eloquent'', but he would not resile from his tactics.
''This is a government which has monumentally failed to control our borders,'' Mr Abbott told the Nine Network. ''And this is a government which is introducing a bad tax based on a lie. So of course these are the main question time preoccupations.''
In a scathing assessment of the direction of the Liberals, Mr Fraser told ABC television Mr Abbott had unsuccessfully tried to talk him out of leaving the party in late 2009.
''When he knew I had resigned from the Liberal Party (just after Mr Abbott took over the leadership), but it wasn't public, he came into my office two or three times trying to get me to change my mind,'' the 82-year-old former leader said.
''(He was) saying all sorts of things about how much he admired me and blah, blah, blah.
''But the arguments he used were not really believable and they were wrong, anyway.''
The party had so departed from basic liberal values - the tenets of the Menzies Liberal party, which was ''a truly liberal party.''
Mr Fraser said the Liberal Party had swung too far to the conservative side of politics.
''They say they are conservatives. If you had called Menzies 'conservative' in the Australian context he would have regarded it as an insult,'' he said.
''He wanted a forward-looking, progressive party willing to make experiments - in no way conservative and in no way reactionary.''
Mr Fraser was critical of the way Labor and the coalition had dealt with asylum seekers. ''A politician who has any respect for the profession will not play politics with the lives of the most vulnerable,'' he said.