Fresh concerns over appointment of Tony Abbott after claims of conflict of interest

Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott speaking at the opening ceremony at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting...

Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott speaking at the opening ceremony at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), at the Nelum Pokuna Theatre in Colombo, Sri Lanka; Chris Jackson - Credit: PA

There have been fresh concerns raised over the appointment of former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott to the UK Board of Trade after claims of a conflict of interest.

Abbott's appointment as an adviser was overshadowed by fierce reaction from some quarters, including accusations of the politician holding misogynistic and homophobic views and an outdated view on climate change.

But in Australia, where he served in parliament for 25 years, the focus has been switched to how the London-born but Australia-bred politician will balance the interests of the two countries.

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The country's shadow attorney general Mark Dreyfus said Abbott's knowledge of the ruling Liberal party and Australian government dealings could present an issue in trade discussions.

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He was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald saying: 'It's up to the government to explain … how conflicts arising from Mr Abbott's intimate knowledge of Australia's trading interests and strategies, gained during his years as a minister and prime minister, will be managed.'

Abbott has said he was 'only too keen' to help the UK and looked forward to helping facilitate trade deals 'between Britain and other countries, including Australia'.

'A UK-Australia trade deal, maximising the movement of goods, services and people is clearly in the best interests of both our countries,' he tweeted.

'It's important for the wider world that Britain make the most of its post-Brexit opportunities and I am proud to be playing a part.'

'My government finalised trade deals between Australia and China, Japan and Korea. I'm looking forward to bringing that expertise to bear as Britain works towards mutually beneficial improvements with its major trading partners.'

Rex Patrick, an independent senator, replied to a statement from Abbott writing: '@HonTonyAbbott announces he will facilitate UK's negotiation of a trade deal with Australia.

'He will be representing the UK's interests, not Australia's. He makes no mention of his clear obligation to register here as a foreign agent. #disgraceful #auspol'

But Alexander Downer, a former Australian high commissioner to the UK, said the arguments against his ally Abbott did not 'stack up'.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'He is not a misogynist, he has appointed many women to positions – he was appointed to this position by a woman.

'I don't think it stacks up, I think it's just party politicking.'

The Department for International Trade formally announced on Friday Abbott would form part of the new-look Board of Trade, in what is said to be an unpaid role.

In its announcement, the department stressed advisers to the board would have 'no direct role in striking trade deals'.

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