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Abbott in cabinet, use Howard: McGregor

AAP logoAAP 31/10/2016

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is being urged to return Tony Abbott to cabinet and give him responsibility for indigenous affairs to heal the rift with the man he deposed.

And one of Mr Abbott's closest friends, Catherine McGregor, believes John Howard is the man to bring them together.

Ms McGregor used her News Corp column on Tuesday to argue Mr Abbott won't be content sitting silently on the backbench, and will continue to accept speaking engagements some see as destabilising.

"Only the discipline of the cabinet can completely align Abbott with his own avowed mission, the re-election of this government," she writes.

"He would be an ideal minister for indigenous affairs."

Ms McGregor, who says she has not had a more stalwart friend through the very difficult times in her life, notes the Turnbull government is living through a controversy a week at present and the ball is in the prime minister's court.

"Abbott believes that only Turnbull can restore their relationship," she says.

"Abbott actually believes that the solidarity imposed upon him by cabinet is the best insurance against his being deemed a wrecker."

Ms McGregor later told ABC TV Mr Abbott views a frontbench position as a win-win, both for him and the government.

She admits some of his legacy protection has probably been ill-advised.

"Even some of those who are very loyal to him have been chagrined at his performance," she said.

Ms McGregor, the 2016 Queensland Australian of the Year, said there had been some friction between Mr Howard and Mr Abbott when he lost the top job, but he could be an intermediary.

"I think Howard has the weight and the motivation to get these two men in a room and talk sense to both of them," she said.

"The party has to be big enough for both of them. You can't squander a heavyweight former prime minister the way he is being squandered."

She admits public exchanges between Mr Turnbull and Mr Abbott over the recent guns debate damaged the latter.

She spoke to him this week and says two things are clear: Mr Abbott is committed to the re-election of the coalition government and he made up his mind to stay in parliament indefinitely before the last election.

Ms McGregor puts Mr Abbott in the same category as Kim Beazley, describing both men as consummate "vocational" politicians.

"Evidently Turnbull is still engaging in wishful thinking that entails life without Abbott to kick around anymore," she says.

"But his predecessor is dug in deeper than Geoffrey Boycott. I am still happy to take bets that Abbott will leave parliament after Malcolm Turnbull."

Cabinet minister Steve Ciobo said the public was more focused on what the government is doing, including "border sovereignty issues".

"As much as the media might like to focus on these types of issues I'm just not going to get sidetracked by them," he told Sky News.

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