Tony Abbott’s emergence out of the shadows as an antagonist inside the Coalition is a headache for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and one that is not likely to go away soon.
Under the pretext of protecting his legacy as prime minister on gun laws, Mr Abbott has shown that he is prepared to use even the full glare of Parliament to defend his record when pressed, regardless that in the process his words may also expose the shortcomings of his prime minister.
Most senior members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery remain sneering detractors of Mr Abbott and completely dismissive of his chances of a return to the leadership, but then gleefully report any hint of disloyalty or “team Abbott” disunity.
The reality about Mr Abbott and any subterranean leadership ambitions he may hold is that the vast majority of Coalition MPs want Mr Turnbull to find his equilibrium as prime minister and make a success of the Coalition’s time in government.
It is a difficult road for Mr Turnbull.
He has an unexpectedly narrow majority and an Opposition led by Bill Shorten that will pounce on and amplify any stumble or misstatement by a government minister that does not appear to recognise the government’s mandate on anything.
On the sidelines Mr Abbott seems to be using occasional speeches and articles as a proxy to display both his capability and currency.
For example Mr Abbott has spent recent months attempting to reform the NSW division of the Liberal Party, which has been captured by factionalism and powerful lobbyist/party members.
In the end, however, while Mr Abbott led the push, it was Mr Turnbull and NSW Premier Mike Baird who swooped in at the last moment to secure a vote that gave branch members more say in pre-selections.
Until the recent blow-up on guns, Mr Abbott has been assiduous in advocating on behalf of the Government, and highly disciplined in his behaviour.
In his departure speech as leader, he made one promise: “There will be no wrecking, no undermining, and no sniping.”
Most would concede he has kept this pledge.
But it is clear that, on the backbench, Mr Abbott remains restless and without enough to keep him occupied.
Greg Sheridan, foreign editor for The Australian and a long-time Abbott confidante, says Mr Turnbull should have found Mr Abbott a place on his frontbench.
But this strategy did not exactly work for Julia Gillard when she gave Kevin Rudd the plumb job of Foreign Affairs after she had ousted him.
But there is merit in trying to keep Mr Abbott inside the cabinet tent and keeping him busy. While he remains on the backbench his presence can be a reminder of the contrast between the two leaders.
Where Mr Abbott is sharp and focused, Mr Turnbull is sometimes imprecise and verbose. Both former journalists, Mr Abbott speaks in headlines, while Mr Turnbull speaks in long-form articles.
Mr Turnbull is more visionary, looking to the long-term future of the nation, whereas Mr Abbott is more practical and interested in the here and now.
Having Mr Abbott on the backbench as an occasional critic of the Government is far from ideal. For Mr Turnbull, Mr Abbott is a problem in need of a solution.