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Tony Abbott says Malcolm Turnbull isn't after his job

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Tony Abbott dismisses idea Malcolm Turnbull is after his job

Tony Abbott says it's "perfectly reasonable" that senior Coalition MPs meet with members of the crossbench following Mr Turnbull's dinner with Clive Palmer last week.

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Tony Abbott has dismissed the idea that Malcolm Turnbull is going after his job, saying it is "perfectly reasonable" that senior Coalition MPs meet with members of the crossbench following Mr Turnbull's dinner with Clive Palmer last week.

In a sign of the delicate relationship between Mr Abbott and Mr Palmer, the Prime Minister would also not be drawn on whether he thought the Palmer United Party leader was honest.

"It's not my job to give a character reference for my political competitors," he told Channel Ten. "But on the other hand, it's also not my job to impugn the integrity of people who may well be our negotiating partners."

"Not my job to impugn the integrity of people": Tony Abbott.

"Not my job to impugn the integrity of people": Tony Abbott. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The Coalition faces a tough battle to get key budget measures through the Senate, such as the GP co-payment and changes to pensions, Newstart and university fees. Labor, the Greens and the Palmer United Party have all expressed opposition to the plans.

Mr Abbott has begun talks with incoming senators Bob Day and David Leyonhjelm but so far Mr Palmer has warned he will hold the government's legislative agenda to ransom until he gets more staff.

Last Wednesday night, Mr Palmer had dinner with Mr Turnbull in a Canberra restaurant in a move that sparked fears among Coalition MPs that it was an attempt to destabilise Mr Abbott's leadership, according to reports.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull had dinner with Clive Palmer.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull had dinner with Clive Palmer. Photo: Rob Homer

The Prime Minister on Sunday dismissed any suggestion about an attack on his leadership.

"I think it's perfectly reasonable for senior members of the Coalition to talk with independent and minor party senators because ... we have a budget to get through the Parliament."

Mr Abbott added that there was "nothing wrong" with Mr Palmer having a relationship with the Communications Minister and others.

Clive Palmer says he will block legislation until he gets more staff.

Clive Palmer says he will block legislation until he gets more staff. Photo: Andrew Meares

"Over time, I'm confident that he will have a constructive relationship with the government."

Mr Abbott also hit back at opposition to the Coalition's first budget from other parties.

"Whether it's Bill Shorten, whether it's the Greens, whether it's others – it's one long chorus of complaint. And in the end, what the public wants is a government that knows where it wants to go," he said.

"The man with the plan has an extraordinary advantage over the person who has just got the complaint."

Mr Abbott said that he was currently talking to "various minor party and independent senators".

"They're really courtesy calls as much as anything," he said.

He conceded that it would not be easy to negotiate the budget through the Senate but appeared to take heart from history, noting that it was unusual for governments to have an upper house majority.

"And yet, almost no government has failed to get the major elements of its budget through."

 

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