Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has defended the ABC as the government confirms the review of a major broadcast licence.

The day everyone is happy with the ABC marks the time the national broadcaster has become dull, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull says.

The criticism should be taken as a compliment, the Liberal frontbencher said on Thursday in defence of the broadcaster slammed by Prime Minister Tony Abbott for acting against the national interest and lacking “basic affection for the home team”.

Amid the commentary, Mr Abbott confirmed the government would revisit Labor’s “particularly dodgy” decision to award the ABC the broadcasting rights to the Australia Network.

There is intense speculation that the network, which provides television services across the Asia-Pacific region, will be axed in the May budget.

“We’re working our way through it,” Mr Abbott told reporters when asked about the network in Canberra on Thursday.

The coalition had significant concerns about “probity issues” when the $223 million Australia Network contract was permanently awarded to the ABC in 2011, accusing the Gillard government of botching the tender process.

“I think it was a particularly dodgy piece of work by the former government,” Mr Abbott said.

Acting Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek said the government’s licence review was a backlash from the prime minister for his perceived poor coverage.

“What we’re seeing is a prime minister going after that, because he doesn’t like the reporting he’s getting in the ABC domestically,” she told Sky News.

But Mr Turnbull said the matters were not linked, and neither was a new efficiency study into both the ABC and SBS, which receive combined annual funding of $1.4 billion.

“(The study) is not about questioning your editorial judgment or programming decisions or the content of programs, it’s about the cost of running these two very big businesses,” he said during an ABC TV interview.

Network managing director Mark Scott welcomed the efficiency study, to be conducted by former chief financial officer at Seven West Media, Peter Lewis.

“We have been in consultation with the minister and will work with the department and Mr Lewis on this new study,” he said in a statement.

There were no specific plans to “slash” the ABC or SBS in the budget, Mr Turnbull said, adding that broadcasters would not be exempt from across-the-board cutbacks.

“The Abbott government wants the ABC to deliver its services cost-effectively and efficiently but deliver them in accordance with the charter … which requires the ABC’s news and current affairs to be accurate and objective and balanced.

“There is nothing in there that says it should be nationalistic.”

Mr Turnbull said the ABC was bound to be balanced, objective, accurate and fair but that there would always be critics.

“The day that everybody says that they’re happy with the ABC … then it’s probably become a bit dull,” Mr Turnbull said.

“Whether it’s politicians or members of the general public who express disappointment at the ABC, it’s actually something of a compliment because people expect the ABC to have very high standards.”