Former prime minister Tony Abbott has given grass roots followers the clear impression he will carry on as an MP. Photo: Alex EllinghausenClaims of Abbott return as PM ‘fanciful’Comment: Should we have a time limit on MPs’ careers?
Former prime minister Tony Abbott told supporters in his local Forestville branch that he was leaning towards staying in politics more than a month ago.
Fairfax Media has been told by people who attended the pre-Christmas drinks for rank and file supporters that Mr Abbott and his wife Margie, who is a member of the branch, both attended the meeting and were in good spirits.
One Abbott supporter who attended the event said that Mr Abbott “certainly gave the indication that he thought he wanted to continue to make a contribution to Australia and the best way of doing it was as an MP”.
“He also said he had to speak to Margie, and Margie then joked that they hadn’t had the conversation yet.
“The clear impression given was that he should stand and would stand. And the views reflected by his local constituency is we all support, very strongly support, his standing again as Member for Warringah. That’s not to say people want him back as PM necessarily but he represents an important cohort in the Liberal Party.”
This account of events has been confirmed by others familiar with discussions at the meeting.
After losing the leadership of the Liberal Party and the prime ministership last year, Mr Abbott said he would spend time over Christmas pondering his political future.
The comments to his branch members and supporters are a clear indication that Mr Abbott is likely to remain in politics beyond the 2016 election and on in to the future.
The NSW branch of the Liberal Party opened pre-selection for 22 seats held by Liberal MPs, including Mr Abbott, on Tuesday and the former prime minister’s decision about his future is eagerly anticipated.
Supporters and allies of Mr Abbott in Parliament are keen for the former prime minister to remain in politics, believing he has a significant contribution still to make, but Liberal moderates and supporters of the man who deposed him, Malcolm Turnbull, are wary that he may continue to destabilise his successor on issues such as national security.
And contrary to a report in a News Corp newspaper on Wednesday, a confidant of Mr Abbott’s former chief of staff, Peta Credlin, told Fairfax Media that she had not been encouraging the former leader to remain in Parliament in a bid to ultimately snatch the prime ministership back from Mr Turnbull.
In fact, the confidant said, Ms Credlin was doing the opposite but “he [Abbott] is thinking about it still and, on balance, he is likely to stay”.
Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss said on Wednesday that Mr Abbott had made a substantial contribution as leader but that “Malcolm Turnbull is the Prime Minister now, he is the leader of the Liberal Party, therefore the leader of the government, he is also entitled to the support of his party, everyone needs to respect the fact that he is the leader and we move on.
“There have been occasions when leaders have come back, but what we all need to do now is back Malcolm Turnbull.” He said it was a matter for Mr Abbott – and indeed, other MPs such as former speaker Bronwyn Bishop – to decide whether to contest the next election.
Innovation Minister Christopher Pyne brushed off concerns about “infighting” over preselections.
Noting he defeated a sitting Liberal member (Ian Wilson) to be pre-selected for his Adelaide seat in the early 1990s, Mr Pyne said: “That is part of the democratic competition that is the Liberal Party.
“We don’t decide our preselections in smoke-filled back rooms like the Labor Party does,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
Several MPs including Mrs Bishop, Philip Ruddock, Craig Kelly, Angus Taylor, Bill Heffernan and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells are under varying degrees of pressure to retain their seats – despite Mr Turnbull throwing his support behind incumbents.
Mrs Bishop has made clear she intends to contest the next election, but could face a preselection challenge. Mr Ruddock and Senator Heffernan are yet to make clear whether they intend to go around again and there is a growing expectation in the party that both men could retire.
Despite talk of a civil war in the NSW Liberal Party, it is now looking increasingly likely that deals will be struck to keep keep Mr Taylor, Mr Kelly and Senator Fierravanti-Wells in place.
Mr Abbott and Ms Credlin were contacted for comment.
Earlier on Wednesday, a spokesman for Mr Abbott said it was “fanciful” to suggest he was plotting a return to the prime ministership.
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