The former prime minister Tony Abbott has praised Pauline Hanson as an “honourable exception” to the populism of the crossbench and criticised his successor, Malcolm Turnbull, for “freelancing” when he served on Abbott’s frontbench.
Abbott made the comments in a wide-ranging interview on 2GB Radio in which he called his own possible return to the frontbench an “interesting proposition” and mused that he was not as busy as he used to be.
Abbott said Hanson was a “much more mature politician and parliamentarian” than when she first came to Canberra in the 1990s.
Abbott said he feared there was an “inbuilt majority for bad government in the Senate”, describing Hanson as a “partial and honourable exception” on a crossbench dedicated to populism.
“A centre-right government … now has to negotiate every bit of legislation clause by clause, line by line through the Senate,” he said. “The idea the government can just get its legislation through – we assumed that in past, you just can’t assume that now.”
Asked about the possibility he could serve as more than the member for Warringah, Abbott said it was a matter for the prime minister but added becoming a more vocal frontbencher was “an interesting proposition”.
Abbott said he could not return to his former role as the Howard government’s “assault man” because he had been prime minister since then.
“The thing about the prime ministership is you’re not just the leader of a tribe, you’ve got to be, in a sense, the leader of the whole nation,” he said,
Abbott noted he was not as busy as he used to be and suggested his wife, Margie, might want him to get more involved with the volunteer firefighters because he was “not busy enough”.
Broadcaster Ray Hadley asked about comments by Turnbull last week that he had always opposed a carbon tax, although some other members of the Coalition had supported one in the past.
The comment was a reference to the period in 2009 when Abbott suggested a carbon tax while Turnbull proposed offering Labor bipartisan support for an emissions trading scheme (ETS).
Abbott said he was “trying to be helpful” by offering the suggestion but, as 2009 wore on, it became clear the ETS was “going to be great big new tax on everything”.
“I’m delighted that since 2009 we’ve had a firm position as Liberal-National Coalition: no carbon tax, nothing that looks like a carbon tax, whether you call it an emissions trading scheme or an emissions intensity scheme.”
Last week the environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, left an emissions intensity scheme on the table but then backtracked, with Turnbull confirming the Coalition opposed such a measure because it put a price on carbon.
Abbott encouraged Australia to become the “affordable energy superpower of the world” and continue to oppose any measure that would raise power prices, despite research that suggests an emissions intensity scheme would in fact lower them.
Hadley then played a clip of Turnbull on the ABC’s Q&A in 2011, when he served on the opposition frontbench, supporting a price on carbon.
“That was then, now he’s the prime minister. He is leading a centre-right government that is absolutely committed to never having a carbon tax, or anything that looks remotely like a carbon tax.”
Asked about Indigenous affairs, Abbott said there were still too many people on “sit-down money”, in reference to welfare, and too many not going to school or in unpoliced communities.
Abbott also criticised “white welfare villages”, broadening the critique to welfare dependence generally. He said if it was “literally impossible to find work” people should be looked after.
“We’ve been far too ready to put people on the disability support pension with bad backs or a bit of depression and so on,” he said. “And these are not permanent conditions, they don’t necessarily stop you from working.”
Abbott wished the US president-elect, Donald Trump, luck, saying whatever one thought of the way he had campaigned it was “important that he succeeds for the world’s sake, as the leader of free world”.
Abbott said some of the things Trump said in the campaign were “pretty crook” but others had been “spot on”.