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Coalition 'angst' at Abbott's attitude

Tony Abbott has little trust for his front bench and is paranoid about being double-crossed, according to a number of senior members of his team who have expressed a growing unease over the Opposition Leader's style.

Some shadow ministers as well as numerous backbenchers have told The Canberra Times that Mr Abbott is nervous about many of those around him and that he is making too many unilateral decisions.

But the Opposition Leader denies the allegations, his office saying yesterday that the claims were ''self-evidently false''.

The comments follow a week of ruthless parliamentary pursuit of embattled Labor MP Craig Thomson that has raised some concern within Coalition ranks.

They also follow claims reported yesterday that Mr Abbott shocked key Independent MPs with how much he begged them to make him prime minister.

Fairfax papers reported Independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, who a year ago threw their support behind a Labor minority government, both saying they had serious reservations about Mr Abbott's negotiating style.


Mr Windsor said Mr Abbott had told him he would do anything to get his support for government and joked: ''The only thing I wouldn't do is sell my arse - but I'd have to give serious thought to it.''

Mr Abbott denied making the remark.

''I don't speak like that. People who know me know that I don't speak like that,'' he said.

''Sure, after the election I wanted to secure government because I wanted to save our country from what was already a bad government.

''I engaged in negotiations to the best of my ability but I think that some of the people I was negotiating with had already made up their minds.''

But senior Coalition sources told The Canberra Times yesterday that Mr Abbott remained desperate to become prime minister and was prepared to do and say anything to achieve the goal. ''We all want government, but the problem is Tony is jumping too much on the populist stuff, even if it is contrary to the party's policy,'' one said.

Some senior MPs pointed to Mr Abbott's generous paid parental scheme as an example of populist policy causing significant angst in the Opposition.

Another said the Opposition Leader was ''nervously watching everyone'' in his team, with a special paranoia when it came to his predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull.

''He has very few people in shadow cabinet who you would say he really trusted,'' one shadow minister said.

A number of Opposition MPs expressed concerns that Mr Abbott went too hard last week with his attack on Mr Thomson over alleged misuse of his former Health Service Union credit card.

Mr Thomson denies any wrongdoing and is not yet the subject of any criminal investigation. But he was hammered in Parliament last week with Mr Abbott demanding he explain himself.

The Opposition Leader and his frontbencher, Christopher Pyne, also called for Prime Minister Julia Gillard to tell Parliament what she knew of the case.

''Abbott and Pyne were out of control last week,'' a senior Liberal Party source said.

''They were just off the planet.''

Former Labor minister Graham Richardson said Mr Thomson should sit as an independent in Parliament for the sake of the party.

''This has got an awful smell to it that won't go away. Every day they hang on, the Labor brand gets damaged,'' he said.

''If there was a way out and they could persuade him to sit on the cross benches, I hope they find it and I hope they take it soon because this Labor brand can't take much more.''

Labor minister Anthony Albanese said the Government would not be asking Mr Thomson to leave the party.

''It's a matter for Mr Thomson what he does, but we must remember that these are just allegations, which he has denied,'' Mr Albanese said.