CANBERRA – Australia’s prime minister and the man he replaced clashed Tuesday in an indication that splits in the ruling party are still wide as the country heads into a possible early election in July.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced Monday that he will call an early election on July 2 unless the Senate agrees to pass contentious legislation next month.
The opposition argues that Turnbull had effectively kicked off a 15-week election campaign, with key senators talking down the prospects of legislation to create a construction industry watchdog getting majority support.
Tony Abbott, the unpopular prime minister who was replaced by Turnbull in September after two years in power, claimed credit for the center-right government’s main achievements. These included stopping asylum seekers from reaching Australia by boat and free trade agreements with China, Japan and South Korea.
“Fundamentally the Turnbull government is seeking election on the record of the Abbott government,” Abbott told Sky News late on Monday.
Turnbull on Tuesday said that his administration was different from the one Abbott had led.
“The bottom line is there is continuity and there is change, and there are many policies that have been announced and many initiatives that have been undertaken that were either not policies or not being pursued by Mr. Abbott,” Turnbull told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
The center-left Labor Party opposition leapt on the disagreement between the leader and his predecessor. Opposition leader Bill Shorten said the ruling Liberal Party was “at war with itself.”
“The truth of the matter is that Mr. Turnbull wants to have an early election on July 2, he doesn’t have a plan for Australia, all he has is plan for his own re-election,” Shorten told reporters.
The government trailed the opposition in opinion polls until Turnbull became prime minister, although his popularity has waned as observers have criticized his slow pace of reform.