Former prime minister Tony Abbott during Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott during Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017. AAP Image - Mick Tsikas

Turnbull slams Abbott over 'deplorables' plot

MALCOLM Turnbull has blasted Tony Abbott as reports emerged that a group of Liberal MPs calling themselves 'the deplorables' has been plotting to undermine the Government and get the former PM back onto the frontbench.

The group of more than a dozen conservative members of the party held phone hook-ups and meetings at Parliament House to discuss the strategy.

The Australian reports the former Prime Minister and Senator Eric Abetz co-ordinated the meetings via calendar invites and group texts.

In a double-blow for Mr Turnbull, the report comes as a new poll released today showed the his government's popularity has plunged to a record low.

Speaking in Canberra this morning, Mr Turnbull accused Mr Abbott of deliberately attempting to skew the poll results by criticising the Government in an outburst last Thursday.

"A poll is a snapshot of opinion at one particular time, the election is two years away and what we saw was an outburst on Thursday and it had its desired impact on the Newspoll - it was exactly as predicted and calculated," Mr Turnbull said.

The Prime Minister then hit out at the media for being too focused on personalities and conflict.

It wasn't a Donald Trump-level attack, with the Prime Minister beginning "with great respect to all of you in the media", but his frustration was clear.

"You're much more entertained by conflict and personalities than you are by jobs," he said.

"Now, you can focus on the personalities if you wish, that's up to you, but I'm focused on jobs, I'm focused on economic growth, I'm focused on ensuring that as hardworking Australian families can get ahead."

ACT senator Zed Seselja appeared beside the Prime Minister in his press conference this morning after being named as one of the Liberal MPs agitating to undermine Mr Turnbull.

The group also reportedly included Kevin Andrews, Michael Sukker, Rick Wilson, Andrew Hastie, Ian Goodenough, Cory Bernardi, Nicolle Flint, Jonathon Duniam, Craig Kelly, Scott Buchholz and Tony Pasin.

Junior MPs were reportedly given directives to use the media to put pressure on the Turnbull Government on issues such as Safe Schools, same sex marriage and freedom of speech.

A number have now distanced themselves as the group began to feel they were being used to get Mr Abbott back into Cabinet.

Others were silenced as they were moved to the frontbench.

Some junior members had initially thought the meetings were purely to discuss strategies on how to push conservative policy positions before realising the other motives at play.

One MP told The Australian Mr Abbott "wanted clean hands" so the group were "co-opted into the attacks."

Mr Abbott had publicly declared there would be "no sniping" the day after he was ousted as Prime Minister.

But members of the group have opened up about the plotting after yet another public stoush between Mr Abbott and Mr Turnbull last week.

"The outbursts you're now seeing from Tony have happened because the hook-ups didn't produce the ­results he was looking for," one MP told The Australian.

"Most of us quickly came to realise this was about personalities, not policy."

Others described the continued invitations to take part as "spam requests", while one said Mr Abbott was becoming increasingly frustrated about the group's failure to follow through with the plan.

"It's all about Tony, that's what most of us have come to realise," one said.

WA MP Andrew Hastie had reportedly suggested the term "the ­deplorables" to describe the group, a reference to Hillary Clinton's comments about Donald Trump supporters in the lead up to the US presidential election.

NSW MP Craig Kelly reportedly informed the group he wasn't interested in taking part, while Senator Bernardi's departure from the Liberal Party earlier this month was said to be partly due to the realisation some MPs were trying to rumble Mr Turnbull.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said today he had not heard of the group's meetings but did not think it was there agenda to undermine the government.

Mr Cormann, who was a loyal Abbott supporter during the leadership challenge but last week hit out at the former Prime Minister for being "deliberately disruptive" and "completely unhelpful", said the people mentioned cited as members of the group were "all good people" and "valued friends and colleagues".

"There's nothing wrong with discussing policy matters internally and there's nothing wrong with discussing policy matters internally with a view of participating in the overall policy debates within the Liberal Party," he told ABC's radio national program.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Simon Birmingham told Sky News: "Anything that creates the perception that a Government might not be focused on issues that matter to people is bad for that Government."

"I can only reassure your viewers that Malcolm Turnbull and every senior member of the Government is far from distracted from these issues that might be generating a lot of newspaper headlines and a lot of chatter," Senator Birmingham said.