Tony Abbott has a new answer to the question that has been dogging him for more than a year: Do you want to make a return as prime minister?

“It’s not a question of what I might like, it’s a question of what the party room wants and the party room wants to end the revolving door prime ministership,” Mr Abbott told ABC 7.30 host Leigh Sales on Wednesday night.

“The party room wants this government, this PM to succeed. That’s what I want and that’s what I’m doing my best to bring about.”

Continuing to frustrate Malcolm Turnbull, Mr Abbott said he wasn’t expecting a vacancy in the Liberal leadership “any time soon” but he retained his right to speak out.

“On important national and international issues, as a former prime minister, I will have something to say.”

“The last thing we need in this country is a revolving door prime ministership. That was one of the many reasons I was an enthusiastic supporter of the re-election of the government and I certainly want Malcolm Turnbull to be the best possible PM throughout this term.”

A day after adding pressure to Mr Turnbull over an import ban for the controversial high-capacity, lever-action Adler shotgun, Mr Abbott said he had sought to protect gun laws created by the Howard government in the wake of the 1996 Port Arthur massacre – denying reports he had negotiated with a key crossbench senator to end the ban in order to secure passage of a migration bill.

Mr Abbott said an email put forward by Liberal Democratic Party senator David Leyonhjelm on Tuesday was not proof of a negotiation, describing it as only an “email from a staffer in a minister’s office.”

“As far as I am concerned as prime minister, the instant I heard these guns were destined for Australia in large numbers, these rapid fire guns, I said ‘no, we’ve got enough guns in this country already’,” he said.

“Shooters are good people but the last thing we want is even more legal guns in this country because sooner or later, the more guns you’ve got, the more likely it is they’ll fall into the wrong hands.”

“The guns were stopped because of the Abbott government… but for the Abbott government we would now have tens of thousands of these weapons in our country and they’re staying stopped because of the Turnbull government.”

Most government regulations included so-called sunset clauses, Mr Abbott said, describing Senator Leyonhjelm as “an independent senator with an obsession”.

“I suspect that what these staffers were doing was telling the good senator what was happening anyway, as a matter of course, in an attempt to get him to support something that we thought was a very good idea,” Mr Abbott said.

Some Coalition MPs spoke out in favour of lifting the ban on Wednesday, creating new political headaches for Mr Turnbull and driving him to shift debate to illegal firearm importation, using Parliament to call on the Opposition to support tougher sentences for convicted gun runners.