Tony Abbott's submarine rollout remarks rejected by Defence secretary; sources say ex-PM 'still in the angry phase'

Tony Abbott's submarine rollout remarks rejected by Defence secretary; sources say ex-PM 'still in the angry phase'

Tony Abbott's submarine rollout remarks rejected by Defence secretary; sources say ex-PM 'still in the angry phase'

Updated 3 March 2016, 18:45 AEDT

The secretary of the Defence Department rejects Tony Abbott's suggestion the Government is delaying the rollout of the next fleet of submarines, as sources tell the ABC it appears the former PM has broken his promise not to undermine his successor.

The secretary of the Defence Department has rejected former prime minister Tony Abbott's suggestion the Turnbull Government is delaying the rollout of the next fleet of submarines.

Mr Abbott yesterday said he was "flabbergasted" the Government's Defence White Paper, which was released last week, had postponed the timetable for the rollout of the fleet by nearly a decade.

At a Parliamentary hearing this afternoon Defence Department secretary Dennis Richardson insisted there had been no such change.

"We have consistently advised government that it was highly unlikely that the first of the future submarines could be delivered by 2026," Mr Richardson said.

"Our consistent advice has been that risk of bringing forward or rushing the Future Submarines project would outweigh any risk involved in extending the life of the Collins [fleet].

"You rush a project like that at your own peril.

"That is the advice that we have consistently received and I should say that is the advice that I have consistently received from anyone in the world , private or public, who has been involved in designing and constructing submarines."

Mr Abbott made his criticism in an article in The Australian newspaper, which also detailed information it said was from a leaked draft copy of the Defence White Paper prepared when Mr Abbott was leader.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday confirmed Defence has asked the Australian Federal Police to investigate the leak.

Rather than drawing focus away from the issue, Cabinet members are publicly criticising the "culprit" and calling for the AFP to identify the mystery leaker.

Treasurer Scott Morrison told the ABC it was being treating as a breach of national security.

"It is a very serious matter," he said.

"I think the Prime Minister has done exactly the right thing in terms of the integrity of that process.

"And if someone has been found to have violated that, well that's very disappointing [and] national security is not something people should play politics over."

'Abbott still in the angry phase'

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop also weighed in, stating that leaking is a criminal offence.

In a statement released yesterday, Mr Abbott said: "I don't leak; I don't background against colleagues. If I've got something to say, I say it."

Mr Abbott was backed by Liberal senator Eric Abetz this morning.

Senator Abetz told the ABC there was a question to whether it was a politician at all.

"I think it is a big jump to suggest it was a parliamentarian," he said.

"There is an investigation, so let's see what that produces, but leaks should be condemned whether by parliamentarians or indeed by officials."

But there is ongoing tension within the Coalition, with sources telling the ABC it appeared Mr Abbott had broken his promise not to undermine his successor.

"Abbott's still in the angry phase — people are starting to get annoyed," one minister said.

"It's scrappy, it's just not useful," said another minister, but tried to differentiate the situation to what was experienced during the Rudd-Gillard years.

"The noise is coming from quite a small group; Rudd had a bloc of support."

A Coalition backbencher described it as "the last death roll of a past leader".

"If Tony Abbott had any thoughts of a return to the prime ministership, they died with [Wednesday's] Australian newspaper," the backbencher said.

The AFP said it will investigate according to its normal protocols.