Malcolm Turnbull has hit back after being criticised for following a social media campaign to oust his old political rival Tony Abbott from the seat of Warringah.
Mr Turnbull raised eyebrows earlier this week after following an Instagram account called “Vote Tony Out”.
“It’s pretty obvious really but following someone on Instagram or Twitter does not imply support approval or endorsement – simply that you are for whatever reason currently interested in seeing the followed person’s posts in your feed,” he tweeted on Thursday.
“And another equally obvious point. The more you try to bully people into NOT reading something the more they will do so. Freedom matters.”
Mr Abbott has offered his old political foe the benefit of the doubt.
“Maybe he’s just keeping an eye on them so he can help me more effectively,” Mr Abbott told 2GB radio on Wednesday.
“There are lots of people who follow sites not because they particularly support the site but because they want to know what the bad guys are up to. That’s the interpretation I’d like to put on it.”
On Tuesday night, a small but vocal Liberal Party branch in Sydney passed a motion calling on Mr Turnbull to be expelled by the NSW division.
The Roseville branch on the north shore voted 16-2 in favour of the motion which urges the party to kick the former prime minister out.
“What the Roseville branch does is a matter for the Roseville branch,” Mr Abbott said.
“I think it would be a pretty radical thing for a political party to no longer want someone who had until recently led it, and I’m not normally in support of radical things.”
Mr Abbott said it was the duty of all Liberals to work for and not against the party’s candidates.
“Malcolm gave me plenty of support in Warringah last time, and if he’s going to get involved at all that’s what I’d be hoping for this time,” he said.
Party sources said the Roseville motion was not binding and does not reflect the view of the NSW division.
Some Liberals were angry at Mr Turnbull’s lack of support during the Wentworth by-election, which he triggered when he resigned from the seat after being dumped as prime minister.
Roseville is in the federal electorate of Bradfield, held by cabinet minister Paul Fletcher.