Prime Minister Tony Abbott says it's not mandatory for his ministers to clear all their media appearances with his office, but they do need to stay on message.

Mr Abbott defended the arrangement on Friday, saying it had worked well in opposition and ensured the coalition spoke "with a united voice".

It was "worthwhile" for his ministers to check in with his office before doing interviews so they could get a run down on the issues of the day to avoid creating confusion.

"Is this mandatory, of course not," he told Fairfax Radio station 3AW radio on Friday.

"Is it desirable, yes."

Mr Abbott has kept a low profile since the September 7 election, but has reassured the public his ministers are hard at work.

However, he suggested they would be taking a different approach to media now they were in government, adding his ministers weren't obliged to grant interviews but should if they have "something to say".

"One of the differences between government and opposition, is that oppositions basically have nothing to do except make a noise," he said.

"Governments have a country to run, and one of the reasons why the former government was such a failure is because they never understood the difference between opposition and government."

The government has been criticised for introducing a new media protocol when reporting on asylum seeker numbers, scrapping the practice of announcing boat arrivals as they happen.

The government won't disclose whether boats have been turned back, a key plank of its asylum seeker policy, and will give only weekly briefings on how many boats are arriving.

Mr Abbott said his "recollection" was this change was flagged when the coalition unveiled its new Operation Sovereign Borders policy.

"I am pretty confident that part of that announcement was to say that we would be giving the public updates on boat arrivals from time to time, rather than necessarily on an hour-by-hour basis," he said.

 

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