Barnaby Joyce accuses Turnbull of 'sniping' over Dutton comments


Barnaby Joyce has criticised former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull who confirmed he's been lobbying his former colleagues to refer the Home Affairs Minister to the High Court.

Malcolm Turnbull confirmed on Thursday that he has been contacting his former Coalition colleagues to urge them to vote for Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton to be referred to the High Court. 

Mr Turnbull made the comments via Twitter, revealing he had lobbied Prime Minister Scott Morrison over the matter.

Turnbull's advice on Dutton 'gratefully received': Morrison
Turnbull's advice on Dutton 'gratefully received': Morrison

"The point I have made to Scott Morrison and other colleagues is that given the uncertainty around Peter Dutton’s eligibility, acknowledged by the Solicitor General, he should be referred to the High Court, as Barnaby was, to clarify the matter," Mr Turnbull wrote on Twitter from New York.

The tweet was Mr Turnbull's first public intervention in politics since he was ousted from the prime ministership in late August.

The tweet drew the ire of former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, who accused Mr Turnbull of undermining the Coalition.

"It seems like he has an active campaign to remove us as the government," the former deputy prime minister told reporters at Parliament House.

"Boy, that is bitterly disappointing."

SBS News asked if Mr Turnbull was "wrecking and sniping" - terms Mr Abbott famously used to promise he would not interfere from the backbench when he was rolled as prime minister. 

"I'd think that would be a fair comment," Mr Joyce replied.

Scott Morrison confirmed he had spoken with his predecessor last week but said he "would not support a referral". 

"Someone once told me in this job, all contributions should be gratefully received. They are," Mr Morrison said. 

"But as the prime minister, I'll obviously make the decisions in relation to our government on what I believe is in the national interest, based on the most recent and most timely information that I have available to me."

He said he respected contributions from "previous leaders" and all his colleagues. 

He pointed out a Labor motion to refer Mr Dutton had already been defeated on the floor of the House of Representatives. 

"I think people have had enough of the lawyers' picnics on these sort of issues and they want us to focus completely and totally on what the nation needs, here and now," he said. 

Mr Dutton is facing questions about his stake in a trustee company that operates two childcare centres. 

The childcare centres in question receive subsidies that were legislated by the Turnbull government - although the money is designed to pay for the services for the children. 

Labor is pushing the parliament to refer the matter to the High Court, so the court can determine whether Mr Dutton's stake in the childcare centres puts him in breach of Section 44 of the Constitution. 

But it will need a majority of MPs in the House of Representatives to support a referral, meaning at least one Coalition MP would need to cross the floor. 

The matter first surfaced in the leadup to the Liberal leadership spill that ended Malcolm Turnbull's prime ministership. Mr Dutton spearheaded a challenge for the leadership but Scott Morrison emerged as victor in the resulting three-way ballot. 

Mr Dutton and Labor have released conflicting legal advice. The government's own lawyer, the solicitor-general, said Mr Dutton was likely okay, but said it was "impossible to state the position with certainty". 

Mr Morrison has now said he will check if Mr Dutton stepped out of the cabinet room when changes to childcare funding were discussed.

Mr Dutton has a family financial interest in two Brisbane childcare centres, which now get direct Commonwealth funding due to recent law changes.

Mr Morrison is checking whether Mr Dutton recused himself from cabinet when the funding changes were decided.

"I have always complied with the cabinet rules, I have declared any interests that I've had in any discussion," Mr Dutton told parliament yesterday.

"I have recused myself from discussions where that's been deemed appropriate.

"In an abundance of care, I make the declaration of my wife's interest in relation to these matters, and that's been my practice for a long period of time."

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