Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Former Defence Minister Kevin Andrews during Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 25 February 2016. Photo: Alex EllinghausenFormer cabinet minister Kevin Andrews has described Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as “leader at the moment” and suggested the government is failing to provide strong and decisive leadership.
Mr Andrews, a staunch conservative ally of former prime minister Tony Abbott who helped end Mr Turnbull’s first stint as leader of the Liberal Party in 2009, said there was “no move to change him that I’m aware of”.
Asked by ABC what he meant when he described Mr Turnbull as “leader at the moment”, Mr Andrews said: “He’s the leader, he’s the Prime Minister. I’m simply saying he’s the Prime Minister. But what we have at the moment is a clear frustration on the part of the Australian public that they’re not getting what they want and whoever the leader is, they need to be responding to this.”
Mr Andrews was dumped by Mr Turnbull from the defence portfolio in 2015.
Last year he sparked a fresh outbreak of Liberal Party disunity after suggesting he was prepared to challenge Mr Turnbull for the leadership, and then claimed to have been taken out of context in an interview with his local paper.
But even as he played down the report in the Manningham Leader, Mr Andrews raised eyebrows in Liberal ranks as he declared “at the present time, Mr Turnbull is the Prime Minister”.
At the time, a Coalition MP told Fairfax Media that Mr Andrews should “just f— off”.
Mr Andrews’ latest comments, responding to the Prime Minister’s handling of the ongoing citizenship crisis gripping the Parliament, are the second time in as many days he has openly criticised Mr Turnbull’s leadership.
He told the ABC on Friday morning that “people are feeling frustrated” with the Prime Minister’s leadership but also lamented the “merry-go-round” approach to ousting Australian leaders in recent years.
Asked if he might play a role in ousting Mr Turnbull again, Mr Andrews said: “There isn’t a vacancy at the moment. The Prime Minister’s there. There’s no mood or appetite on the basis of this merry-go-round we’ve had for years for yet another change. But we’ve got to show some leadership and reflect the concerns and frustrations of the people of Australia.”
On Thursday, Mr Andrews used an interview with Sky News to call for “strong and decisive leadership”, and said the government should conduct an audit of parliamentarians’ citizenship status.
The months-long citizenship storm has been revived in recent days, with revelations Senate president Stephen Parry holds dual citizenship – a fact known for weeks by at least one cabinet minister – and new concerns about Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg.
With the major parties feeling the heat, the opposition is warming to the idea of a Parliament-wide citizenship audit, which has been demanded by the crossbenchers and a handful of backbenchers – including Mr Andrews.
Responding to the comments, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann – a key conservative ally of Mr Turnbull – said the Prime Minister was providing strong leadership.
“He has got the overwhelming support of our party room and let me say all of the difficult policy issues that have been intractable for a long time that we have navigated as a Coalition party room in recent months … they have all been pursued with great skill by the Prime Minister.”
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