PRIME Minister Malcolm Turnbull has declared that the Liberal Party must remain in the "sensible centre" of politics, slapping down Tony Abbott and other right-wing rebels.

In a major speech in London as protesters raged outside, Mr Turnbull fired an intercontinental missile at his predecessor by emphasising that the Liberal Party is centrist, rather than conservative.

The speech comes as frustrated Liberal backbenchers said Mr Abbott should be appointed High Commissioner to London so that he will be unable to continue criticising Government policies.

Delivering the Disraeli lecture to the Policy Exchange think tank on Monday, after earlier ­visiting the scene of the Borough Market terrorist attacks in which two Australians were killed last month, Mr Turnbull said the Liberal Party "stands for freedom or it stands for nothing".

Malcolm Turnbull declared that the Liberal Party must remain in the “sensible centre” of politics.
Malcolm Turnbull declared that the Liberal Party must remain in the “sensible centre” of politics. MICK TSIKAS

That rhetoric comes after weeks in which the minority conservative faction has been more and more vocal, causing tensions in the party.

"We took the name 'Liberal' because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary but believing in the individual, his right and his enterprise, and rejecting the socialist panacea," Mr Turnbull said. "The sensible centre was the place to be. It remains the place to be."

He also made the bold claim that Robert Menzies was a moderate, progressive leader, to defend his own centrist governing style.

"In 1944, Menzies went to great pains not to call his new centre-right party a conservative party - rather he described our party as the Liberal Party, which he firmly anchored in the centre of Australian politics," Mr Turnbull said.

"He wanted to stand apart from the big money, business establishment politics of traditional conservative parties, as well as from the socialist tradition of the labour movement embodied in the Australian Labor Party.

"I mention this only to remind that when we quote Menzies, ­Disraeli (a founder of the modern British Conservative Party), or any other political leader, we need to consider the historical context."


PM Malcolm Turnbull with British PM Theresa May in a meeting where they talked trade, security and North Korea.
PM Malcolm Turnbull with British PM Theresa May in a meeting where they talked trade, security and North Korea. Kym Smith

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull walks with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, left, and Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, centre right, at the Borough Market area. Picture: Niklas Hallen/Pool via AP

He used a theme about individual freedom to talk about terrorism as the enemy of freedom.

"In order to be free, a person must first be safe," he said.

Mr Turnbull has used his visit to Europe to meet with newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron, whom he refers to as a representative of the "sensible centre".

Some conservative Liberal MPs have complained that Mr Turnbull is leading a "Labor lite" government.


Former PM Tony Abbott, former PM John Howard and PM Malcolm Turnbull.
Former PM Tony Abbott, former PM John Howard and PM Malcolm Turnbull. Ray Strange

In Australia, Victorian Liberal Party president Michael Kroger said there was "zero chance" of Mr Abbott becoming High Commissioner.

"A job over there doesn't fit with the Tony Abbott we know, so I think there's zero chance of that happening, quite frankly," Mr Kroger told Sky News.

Conservative Liberal backbencher Eric Abetz yesterday said Mr Abbott should be appointed to Cabinet - something Mr Turnbull has repeatedly refused to do.

During the speech, Mr Turnbull defended the government's border protection policies.

"As Europe grapples today with unsustainable inflows of migrants and asylum seekers, the Australian experience offers both a cautionary tale and the seeds of a potential solution," he said.

"The lesson is clear: weak borders fragment social cohesion, drain public revenue, raise community concerns about national security and ultimately undermine the consensus required to sustain high levels of immigration and multiculturalism.

"In contrast, strong borders and retention of our sovereignty allow government to maintain public trust in community safety, respect for diversity and support for our immigration and humanitarian programs."


Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott

As Mr Turnbull delivered his speech, a group of protesters concerned about Australia's treatment of refugees gathered outside.

"We are here to protest Malcolm Turnbull receiving an award for his immigration policy because we think that the immigration policy that Australia has is inhumane and unfair and treats people like animals, locking them up indefinitely offshore and around Australia and we think it needs to end," protest leader Lizzie O'Shea told AAP.

Mr Turnbull overnight received the respected Disraeli prize for 2017 from the Policy Exchange think tank. The prize, presented by British Home Secretary Amber Rudd, in part honours Mr Turnbull for "maintaining Australia's non-discriminatory immigration program".

Meanwhile, a new opinion poll shows Liberal infighting is driving disappointed South Australian voters into the arms of Bill Shorten's federal Labor Party.

Labor would have won a convincing 56.1 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote in SA and the Liberals just 43.9 per cent if a federal election had been held in the past two weeks, according to a ReachTEL poll commissioned by the left-wing Australian Institute think tank.

One third of voters would give their first preference vote at a federal election to the Liberals, 29 per cent to Labor and 14 per cent to the Nick Xenophon Team.

It also found that a majority of SA voters are opposed to Senator Pauline Hanson's proposal for funding to the ABC to be slashed.

Mr Turnbull and British PM Theresa May yesterday met Australian ambulance officers who responded to last month's terror attack in London.

The pair visited Borough Markets after thanking a range of first responders, including three Australian ambulance officers and the Met police.

The relatively low-key visit came as the area tries to return to normal.

The leaders' then freely walked through the market, talking to stall holders about the devastating mayhem.

The Borough Markets only recently reopened after the June 3 attack, which killed eight and wounded almost 50.

News Corp Australia

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