Abbott attacks ‘febrile media culture’ that rewards treachery

Former prime minister Tony Abbott speaks during a press conference at Parliament House. Sam Mooy/AAP

Tony Abbott has lashed out at “a febrile media culture that rewards treachery” while pledging not to be a “wrecker”, in his first public comments after being removed as Liberal leader.

Addressing the media for the last time in the prime minister’s courtyard, shortly before Malcolm Turnbull was sworn in at Government House, Abbott said: “My pledge today is to make this change as easy as I can.

"There will be no wrecking, no undermining and no sniping. I have never leaked or backgrounded against anyone and I certainly won’t start now.”

Abbott is described as shocked and shattered by the coup and has not hidden his bitterness at what he regards as treachery.

On Monday night he addressed staff in his Parliament House office after the partyroom ballot, but did not appear publicly until Tuesday’s courtyard statement. He did not attend the House for Question Time on Tuesday afternoon, before which Turnbull, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss paid tribute to him.

Abbott’s comments came amid mixed reactions in the party and more widely about the Turnbull coup, which is expected to give the Coalition a bounce in the polls.

Conservative Liberal senator Cory Bernardi, a long-time critic of Turnbull, told Sky: “Mr Turnbull as PM will receive a great deal more loyalty than he displayed, but then again that’s not setting the bar very high, is it?”

Bernardi said the new ministerial line-up – not announced for some days – would show “those who have taken the 30 pieces of silver”.

“It’s treachery of the highest order but what’s done is done and they’ll get the spoils of office.”

Former prime minister John Howard spoke on Tuesday with Abbott and Turnbull. Talking to reporters, Howard said he would do anything to help Turnbull, giving him as much or as little support and advice as Turnbull chose. But Howard would not be drawn on whether the party had done the right thing. “Ultimately the Australian people will decide that.”

Howard said much had been achieved in Abbott’s two years, notably in border protection and budget repair. He commended Abbott’s leadership on national security.

“He effectively at the 2010 election killed off a first-term Labor government,” though it took another three years for it to be buried and cremated, Howard said. “He has an enormous amount to be proud of.”

Howard said he had little doubt Turnbull would understand the Liberal Party was a broad church.

He said federal politics was different and more fragmented these days.

“There are differences that have been brought about by the more intensive and active media cycle. I’m not into blaming the media… We are living in a more super-charged, frenetic top-of-the-head environment.”

Howard said that “the major reason why the Liberal Party made the change was the state of the polls.

"I’ve said in the past that politics is relentlessly driven by the laws of arithmetic and I do think, if the polls had been different, even to a modest but measurable degree, then there may not have been a change.”

Abbott said the nature of politics had changed in the past decade.

“We have more polls and more commentary than ever before – mostly sour, bitter, character assassination.

"Poll-driven panic has produced a revolving-door prime ministership which can’t be good for our country and a febrile media culture has developed that rewards treachery.

"And if there’s one piece of advice I can give to the media, it’s this: refuse to print self-serving claims that the person making them won’t put his or her name to, refuse to connive at dishonour by acting as the assassin’s knife,” Abbott said.