Prime Minister Tony Abbott has refused to condemn two conservative commentators engaged in a bitter public dispute with one of his most senior ministers, praising the two as his personal friends.
After a week of public insults between his Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the one hand and News Corporation commentator Andrew Bolt and Sydney shock-jock Alan Jones on the other, Mr Abbott pointedly declined to criticise the outspoken media personalities.
He said also that criticism comes with the territory for people in politics.
That, along with another observation that there had been some "over-excited chatter" made in recent days, could be seen by Mr Turnbull as a thinly disguised message to him to pull his head in.
Asked directly if he agreed with Mr Turnbull's criticism of Mr Jones as a bomb-thrower doing the Labor party's work, and the claim that Mr Jones and Mr Bolt were running a concerted campaign against Mr Turnbull, Mr Abbott replied "no".
"Alan is a friend of mine, Andrew Bolt is a friend of mine, I think that they are both very significant commentators."
"Alan is a friend of mine, Andrew Bolt is a friend of mine, I think that they are both very significant commentators and they've got a lot to say as you know," he said in Paris.
The comments came despite Mr Bolt accusing Mr Turnbull of destabilising Mr Abbott, and Mr Jones claiming Mr Turnbull was a bomb thrower intent on harming his prime minister in order to regain the Liberal leadership, to which Mr Turnbull responded: ''You are the bomb thrower, Alan''.
On ABC's 7.30 on Thursday night, Mr Turnbull said he did not have "any plans, any desires, any expectations to be the leader" of his party again.
"Politics is an unpredictable business so people say to me often, 'Do you think you'll be leader again?' and I say my prospects are somewhere between nil and very negligible and I think that is probably about right," Mr Turnbull said on 7.30.
With the stoush raging on, Mr Abbott, who is in Paris, also poured cold water on suggestions of a cabinet reshuffle.