Former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer has accused Malcolm Turnbull of buckling to military pressure and abandoning his support for promoting First World War hero Sir John Monash to Field Marshal.
Mr Fischer, who has campaigned for years to have Monash promoted posthumously to Field Marshal - the highest Army rank - said he had kept detailed notes of a "disappointing" phone call from Mr Turnbull a few days before Anzac Day last year.
His notes revealed the then prime minister had called on April 18 from London to advise he planned to address the "Monash for Field Marshal" campaign after he had opened the $100 million Monash Centre at Villers-Bretonneux, in northern France, on Anzac Day.
However, Mr Turnbull had said that because of "recent publicity", he wanted to bring the matter forward and announce before Anzac Day that he had decided against the posthumous promotion.
The then Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, had advised against it and other senior military personnel were "violently opposed" to the plan, Mr Fischer recorded Mr Turnbull as saying.
Mr Fischer said he was both angry and disappointed at the time at what he described as "the prime minister's captain's call", and he remained unimpressed today.
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"I countered that he, Malcolm Turnbull, had said in 2013 when speaking at the Jewish Museum in Darlinghurst: 'I fully support the idea of Josh Frydenberg and Tim Fischer to posthumously promote Monash to Field Marshal'," Mr Fischer said.
"I then added that Robert Menzies, as a gift of the Parliament and people, had promoted Sir Thomas Blamey to Field Marshal in 1950, with Blamey on his sick bed and against some military opposition at the time.
"The PM said yes, this is a 'gotcha' moment, but there was strong opposition."
Mr Fischer said he had consulted his year-old notes after Mr Turnbull "re-entered the political fray" last week.
Mr Turnbull made headlines when he declared Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton had questions to answer over revelations that a Chinese billionaire had paid tens of thousands of dollars to a lobbyist to meet Mr Dutton while seeking citizenship for his family.
Mr Fischer said he felt justified in raising the Monash matter now because Australia was nearing another Anzac Day, and he felt the issue was unresolved. He said there remained strong support for the Field Marshal campaign "on both sides of the political aisle".
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is open to granting Monash a posthumous promotion should he win the May election.
Monash is widely considered Australia's greatest military commander. After leading roles in Egypt and Gallipoli and on the Western Front in Belgium and France, he was made commander of the Australian Corps in May 1918.
The Australian Corps was the spearhead of the mid-1918 Battle of Amiens, which is considered to have persuaded the Germans the war was lost.
Monash was knighted on the battlefield by King George V. But he was never granted the top rank of Field Marshal, leading some historians to conclude he was a victim of anti-Jewish sentiment.
Mr Fischer said Australia was left with a bizarre list of Field Marshals, only one of whom was actually Australian.
Britain's Sir William Birdwood, who commanded the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps at Gallipoli, became Australia's first Field Marshal in 1926, though he was in India. King George VI was given the rank in 1938. The Duke of Edinburgh was promoted to Field Marshal while visiting Australia in 1954.
The only Australian-born Field Marshal was Sir Thomas Blamey, the commander of the 2nd AIF in World War 2. He was granted the rank in 1950 and died less than a year later.
Mr Turnbull declined to comment on Mr Fischer's revelations.
However, his spokesman pointed to the former prime minister's statement on Anzac Day last year, when he said Australia had no tradition of posthumous promotions. Monash's legacy spoke for itself, and his honours had been immense, Mr Turnbull said at the time.
- The Age