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Malcolm Turnbull has pulled out of four appearances on the ABC's flagship radio and TV current affairs shows in the month since the federal budget, and some of the Communications Minister's allies are privately blaming the Prime Minister's office for intervening to stop his appearances.
At the same time, Mr Turnbull has come under sustained attack from conservative News Corp columnists Andrew Bolt and Sydney broadcaster Alan Jones for not selling the government's budget and undermining Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Mr Turnbull will finally make an appearance on the ABC's 7.30 program on Thursday night.
But since the budget, the Communications Minister has been pencilled in for and then not gone ahead with the following appearances:
- The ABC's AM program on May 16, three days after the budget. Health Minister Peter Dutton appeared instead.
- Two appearances on 7.30. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison appeared on May 26 instead to discuss the Cornall report into the Manus Island riots, and on Wednesday night, Clive Palmer appeared instead. Program insiders insist that they made the final decision on the line-up - that the planned guest for the show changed as news broke through the day - and pointed out that Mr Turnbull will appear on Thursday night.
- And on June 1, Mr Turnbull had been pencilled in for Insiders. Education Minister Christopher Pyne appeared instead.
In the past week, Mr Bolt has launched a series of blistering attacks on Mr Turnbull, accusing him of undermining Mr Abbott and not selling the budget – prompting the minister to label the columnist "demented" and "unhinged".
Mr Turnbull has also clashed with 2GB radio station hosts Alan Jones and Ben Fordham in the past two days over his support for the Prime Minister and his willingness to sell the budget.
A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said it was "completely false" to suggest Mr Turnbull had been prevented from making any appearances in the media, a view echoed by Mr Turnbull's office.
However, some Turnbull supporters have told Fairfax Media that Mr Abbott's office had played a part in stopping the appearances by the cabinet minister.
A friend of Mr Turnbull bemoaned the fact that he was under attack from conservative columnists for not selling the budget when four major opportunities to do so had been cancelled.
Mr Turnbull is widely regarded as one of the government's most effective communicators and as a former leader is by convention afforded more leeway to decide his own media schedule.
It is understood that Mr Turnbull has complied with an edict issued by the Prime Minister's press office three weeks after the election that all media appearances be approved by the media team.
In an email to Coalition media advisers at the time, Mr Abbott's presssecretary James Boyce said fellow media minder Kate Walshe would have overall responsibility for co-ordinating ministerial media.
"All media co-ordination and requests should go through Kate first. This covers all national media interviews on television, radio and print. This includes any ABC local radio or ABC television interviews, the Sunday programs, Sky News, and metropolitan print media longer-format interviews etc," the email said.
"With any regular appearances on shows such as Sky AM Agenda, they should first have been co-ordinated through Kate at least the day before; on the morning of the interview, it is still best to speak with Russ Neal for the main daily issues and messages."
The story Malcolm Turnbull's withdrawal from ABC appearances privately blamed on Tony Abbott's office first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.