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Peter Dutton says he doesn't regret his role in Malcolm Turnbull's downfall

An unabashed Peter Dutton says he has no regrets about rolling Malcolm Turnbull last year, declaring the strike against him was justified because Coalition was on track to lose the federal election, “which I thought would be a disaster for my electorate and for the country as well”.

Dutton defended his role in ending Turnbull’s prime ministership by arguing the Labor leader, Bill Shorten, was “very unpopular” in the seat of Dickson. “My judgment was we had to do whatever we could to stop Bill Shorten becoming prime minister, and I don’t resile from that today,” the home affairs minister told the ABC on Tuesday evening.

“I think Scott Morrison is doing a great job and we need to make sure we win this election – because there’s a lot riding on it.”

While Morrison dead bats every attempt to ask questions about last year’s events, declaring the contest is about the future, and characterising leadership as a preoccupation of the “Canberra bubble” – Dutton was unapologetic about making a play for the Liberal leadership during a debate on the ABC against the Labor candidate for Dickson, Ali France.

Morrison has spent the past 48 hours in and around Melbourne in an effort to sandbag seats at risk of falling to Labor because of a backlash in Victoria triggered in part by the leadership change. Labor is also running an attack advertisement in Melbourne targeting Dutton, who is an unpopular figure in the state.

Opinion polls suggest the Coalition is only now, months on, recovering from the political damage inflicted by the upheaval, with Labor still ahead, but the government moving back to within striking distance at the opening of the federal campaign.

During the debate with France on Tuesday, Dutton also criticised both the Greens senator Larissa Waters and the ABC for allowing her to express an “unsubstantiated claim” on Monday night’s Q&A program.

Dutton’s objection was about a section of the program where the Liberal senator James McGrath said the LNP was “a party for all Queenslanders regardless of where you come from and how long you’ve been here, as long as you share our values – and one of our values is its inclusivity, and we’re colour blind when it comes to the colour of your own skin”.

McGrath said he was sure the Greens, “and I hope Labor would agree with that”.

Waters said in response: “I’m not sure Peter Dutton would” – pointing to the government’s border protection policies.

Dutton said he took “deep offence” at the inference from Waters. “I think it was a publicity stunt, which is why I hate drawing attention to it, but the reality is, that why has she said this?

“Ask her to substantiate it, and why is she allowed to say it frankly, on a program on the ABC, the national broadcaster, and can get away with such an unsubstantiated claim? I think that is quite wrong.”

Dutton repeated an apology he made to France at the weekend. The home affairs minister apologised for accusing France of “using her disability as an excuse” not to move to the electorate during the campaign after the sledge sparked a furore.

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“I apologised for it the other day, I apologise to Ali for it now,” he said. “Obviously I said at the time that I had spoke to a number of constituents, they raised issues with me in relation to it, I was conveying that.

“I could have done it in a more sensitive way. I made a mistake. We all make mistakes. I apologised and I repeat it again today.”

France accepted the apology, but noted having a disability wasn’t an excuse. “It is our reality. We don’t want pity. We don’t want special treatment but what we do expect in particular from leaders is that they have an understanding that we may do things differently in our world.”

As well as rebuking Waters for her sledge on Q&A, Dutton said France had said previously “she is ashamed to be an Australian because of [the government’s] border protection policies and that’s been deleted from the Twitter account”.

France said she was not ashamed to be an Australian: “I’ll quote Michelle Obama: when they go low, you go high.

“I have never said that I am ashamed to be Australian. I shared an article, in which somebody in New York wrote an article talking about their experience. I didn’t say I was ashamed to be Australian.

“I have represented Australia twice in sport, I’ve won three gold medals. When I have stood on that podium, singing the national anthem, I couldn’t be prouder.

“I am a really proud Australian and I think it’s really unfair [for Dutton] to be saying that, but anyway.”

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