Abbott sticks by question time ploy

TONY ABBOTT says he has no plans to change the Coalition's question time tactics following criticism from Malcolm Turnbull that the session focuses too much on asylum seekers and the carbon tax.

With Parliament to resume on Monday and the government about to start sending the first asylum seekers to Nauru, the Opposition Leader said yesterday that border protection and the carbon price remained the government's ''two biggest failures'' and the opposition would pursue the issues.

Mr Abbott was commenting yesterday after a rugged week in which the Nationals revolted over foreign investment in agriculture and Mr Turnbull, the opposition communications spokesman, gave a provocative speech decrying the deterioration of political discourse.

Mr Turnbull was especially critical of question time. He said that for the past two years, ''questions from the opposition have been almost entirely focused on people-smuggling and the carbon tax''.

He said the limited scope of issues was not a criticism of Mr Abbott or Julia Gillard, but a product of question time in which the Prime Minister was the focus every day.

Figures supplied by the government show that of the 302 questions the opposition has asked the government this year, 137, or 45 per cent, have been about the carbon price.

The next most-asked about topic was Craig Thomson, which elicited 39 questions. There have been 19, or 6 per cent, asked about asylum seekers.

Mr Abbott said he and Mr Turnbull had spoken about the speech, which many in the Liberal Party construed as wilful and an indirect attack on Mr Abbott. Besides the comments on question time, Mr Turnbull lamented the inability to have a mature discussion about climate change science because if the ''hopeless, confused, hyper-partisan nature of the debate''.

Mr Abbott described the speech as ''interesting and eloquent'' and said Mr Turnbull had every right to express his views. ''We are not a Stalinist party,'' he said.

He has used the same defence when asked abut the Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce, who spoke out against foreign investment in agriculture following the approval by the government and the Foreign Investment Review Board for a Chinese-led private consortium to buy the giant Queensland cotton farm Cubbie Station.

Coalition policy supports the acquisition, but the Nationals will discuss their concerns at their party room meeting on Monday. One option being canvassed is a policy change that would force the public release of the deliberations of the review board.

Mr Abbott rejected any suggestion that Senator Joyce's outbursts or Mr Turnbull's speech presented any threat to, or test of, his leadership. ''Malcolm is going to be a very good communications minister in the next Coalition government,'' he said.

The Liberals are angry at the Nationals for not toeing the line on policy.

The former prime minister John Howard used a speech in New Zealand on Thursday to weigh in, saying it would be hypocritical to sell goods and resources to the Chinese but not allow them to invest in Australia.

''We benefit greatly from foreign investment. We can't expect countries to buy our resources and turn around and say, 'Well, you can buy our resources, but we're going to discriminate against you when it comes to foreign investment' - that's just not on,'' he said.

The story Abbott sticks by question time ploy first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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