Labor's decision to abstain from a United Nations vote to upgrade Palestine's status makes Australia appear weak and impotent, Liberal frontbencher Malcolm Turnbull says.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard was forced to abandon her plan to vote against Palestine's bid to become a non-member observer state following a push by Foreign Minister Bob Carr and the risk of a backbench revolt.
Australia will instead abstain from voting on the Palestinian resolution when it comes before the UN general assembly on Thursday, in a rare break from Israel and the United States.
Ms Gillard wanted to vote against the resolution and is believed to have overruled her cabinet colleagues on Monday, before changing her position shortly before a Labor caucus meeting on Tuesday.
Cabinet minister Stephen Conroy would not be drawn on cabinet discussions after being asked if it was true he supported Ms Gillard's position.
"I support the position that was adopted today with the prime minister's full endorsement," he told ABC television.
Mr Turnbull said it was "pathetically sad" the government had gone to all the trouble to have a greater voice on the UN security council but would abstain from the general assembly vote on the issue.
"Its first significant vote since it won that seat on the security council is not to say yes or no but to say nothing, to sit mute, undecided, weak and helpless and impotent.
"It doesn't have the guts to say for it or against it."
Australia should have stuck to the previous policy to oppose any change to the status of the Palestinian territories in respect to the UN, Mr Turnbull said.
"Any change should be part of a proper peace arrangement, proper progress towards peace."
The previous policy should be adhered to while Hamas and Fatah were basically involved in a civil war, Mr Turnbull said.