Libs fight as Abbott keeps his distance
Opposition leader Tony Abbbott and his daughter Louise. Photo: Stefan Postles
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has been forced to insist a feud between two Liberal Party powerbrokers has nothing to do with him and it is not causing any problems for the federal Coalition.
But some Opposition MPs are concerned that the increasingly public brawl between former treasurer Peter Costello and former Victorian Liberal party president Michael Kroger is only giving Labor a free kick.
Mr Costello has denied he made an ill-fated attempt last year to return to Federal Parliament, but his one-time friend Mr Kroger unleashed a stinging personal attack yesterday, saying the former treasurer was damaging the party.
Mr Kroger claims Mr Costello wanted Liberal MP Josh Frydenberg to hand over his seat of Kooyong, but was told the plan wouldn't work.
Yesterday, Mr Kroger accused Mr Costello of being critical of too many of his former colleagues, including Mr Abbott and former prime minister John Howard, because he could not get over never getting the top job himself. ''Why do I not talk to Peter much these days? Because as all of his ex-friends know, lunch with Peter is an agony,'' Mr Kroger said.
''Peter's got to stop criticising Tony Abbott. He is not an economic illiterate. He's a Rhodes scholar for God's sake …
''Peter has to move on. He's got to move on and stop bagging everyone - including me.
''Peter doesn't seek to help Tony Abbott at all.''
Mr Costello issued a two-page statement yesterday saying he had never sought to return to Parliament since he retired from it, but if he had wanted to, Mr Kroger would have been in no position to help anyway.
The former treasurer said he would not respond to the personal criticisms directed at him. And while he praised Mr Kroger for once being an excellent party official, he said that was 20 years ago.
''The time has come for a new generation,'' Mr Costello said.
But the Kroger spray has left many inside the Liberals furious that it has exposed a party at war with itself. One Liberal backbencher said: ''By airing these things, it only allows Labor to get away with bad management of the country.''
Another said the saga had given Labor a short reprieve from the spotlight on its scandals, such as those involving the Member for Dobell Craig Thomson and embattled Speaker Peter Slipper.
''Infighting inside the Liberals is not the message we want out there right now,'' the MP said.
Opposition frontbencher Mitch Fifield described Mr Kroger's criticism of Mr Costello as disappointing, adding that the former treasurer was a Liberal Party hero.
''Peter Costello has made a massive contribution to political life, to the Australian economy and to the Liberal Party,'' Senator Fifield said.
''Peter has never once indicated to me a desire to launch a political comeback. Nothing Michael Kroger says will detract from Peter Costello's outstanding record.
''Every member of the Liberal Party should be focused on our prospects at the next election.''
The episode has also allowed the government to suggest it means that Mr Costello wants Mr Abbott's job and that the former treasurer has no confidence in the current leader's economic credentials.
Treasurer Wayne Swan spent the day selling his budget, but he took the opportunity to comment on the Liberal fight.
''Well, one thing we know about Mr Costello is that he's got a very clear view about Mr Abbott. He said he can't be trusted with the economy. He has said that he's not economically literate,'' Mr Swan said.
''So this warfare that has broken out in the Liberal Party, I think, has got a lot to do with the fact that the current members of the Liberal Party and Mr Abbott's team in the Parliament have simply wrecked any economic credibility the Liberal Party ever had.''
But Mr Abbott said the Costello-Kroger brawl had nothing to do with him or his parliamentary team.
''They're friends of mine but neither is a member of Parliament, neither is part of my team in Canberra,'' Mr Abbott said.
Mr Kroger denied he was attacking Mr Costello as a form of payback over a bitter brawl involving his ex-wife, Helen Kroger, who was recently preselected to the vulnerable third place on the ticket for the next election.
Meanwhile, Mr Abbott came under fire himself for suggesting yesterday that he would consider dumping some of the extra family payments announced in the budget. Tuesday's budget included an increase to Family Tax Benefit Part A.
The opposition will not block the initiative, but Mr Abbott said that if the Coalition gets into office he would scrap Labor's carbon tax, making redundant the need for the benefit increase.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Mr Abbott's comments proved he was out of touch.
''I think I'm entitled to say that someone who makes those decisions can't understand how difficult it is for so many families to make ends meet,'' she said.