The excruciating details of Tony Abbott trying to ambush his ministers have been revealed

Photo: Stefan Postles/ Getty Images.

The details of one of the more extraordinary aspects of plans to strip people suspected of terrorist-related activities of Australian citizenship are laid bare in a story by Peter Hartcher today and it goes to the heart of the apparent dysfunction in the Abbott government.

As Business Insider’s editor Paul Colgan pointed out on Thursday, just a fortnight after putting out a largely successful budget that looked set to turn around the Coalition’s fortunes, there’s still a discipline problem in government ranks and Hartcher’s story suggests Tony Abbott needs to take some of the blame.

When the PM and immigration minister Peter Dutton flagged their citizenship proposal on Tuesday, much of it had already been leaked to The Daily Telegraph. But a key aspect of the paper’s story was missing from the announcement – the idea that the immigration minister could effectively render Australian citizens stateless by revoking their citizenship.

Fairfax already had the story of the incredible cabinet leak that followed, revealing that the idea had been met with fierce opposition by six senior cabinet colleagues: defence minister Kevin Andrews, foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop, attorney-general George Brandis, agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce, education minister Christopher Pyne and communications minister Malcolm Turnbull.

“A person’s citizenship is of enormous importance, intrinsic to themselves. Take me. The only people who’ve lived in Australia longer than my family are Aboriginal. I have no other identity,” Turnbull reportedly said in the meeting.

“Are we seriously saying some minister could take my citizenship?”

Hartcher has the excruciating details and it once again brings into question Abbott’s leadership.

Here’s what he says about the circumstances that led to the PM being rolled by his own cabinet:

By the time the forceful objections of these five ministers had been reinforced by another – Defence Minister Kevin Andrews warned that if the idea was controversial in the cabinet it would be much more so in the community – it was apparent that the idea was moribund.

The Prime Minister had been rolled by his cabinet.

It was not only the substance of the proposal, however, but the method that exasperated ministers. Or, rather, the lack of method.

The matter was not listed on the cabinet agenda. There was no cabinet submission. There was no written proposal of any kind in front of the ministers.

Abbott brought up the subject only at the end of a cabinet meeting on other business, then asked Dutton to speak on it. It emerged during debate that there was a discussion paper on the subject, and Brandis volunteered that he had seen a copy and had been debating the idea with Abbott in the inner sanctum of cabinet’s National Security Committee.

It was at this point in a tense and difficult debate that Bishop stunned the meeting with a further revelation: “I haven’t seen a discussion paper.”

The ministers around the table instantly understood. The Prime Minister had tried to ambush his cabinet.

Bishop is the deputy leader of the Liberal Party, the Foreign Affairs Minister, the minister with oversight of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, a member of the National Security Committee of cabinet and a central figure in Australia’s effort to defeat the terrorists of the so-called Islamic State.

The depth of mistrust between the Liberal leader and his deputy was starkly exposed.

“We had been attempted to be duped,” a cabinet member tells Hartcher.

It gets worse. Turnbull asked his leader if The Daily Telegraph had been told about the plan, because it meant that the proposal was pre-empted before coming to cabinet.

The PM said no.

It was in The Daily Telegraph the next day.

As Hartcher says: “Oops”.

Read the all the details here.

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