Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Labor economical with its criticism, and for good reason - Sydney Morning Herald

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Sex appeal: 'the caravan's moved on'

Liberal Joshua Frydenberg and Labor's Laura Smyth discuss week two of the campaign, including Tony Abbott's sex appeal gaffe, the coalition's policy costings, and preference deals.

When Tony Abbott stood up at a footy stadium on Tuesday and observed that one of his female candidates had "sex appeal," the journalists laughed nervously, feminists slapped their foreheads and Twitter raised its eyebrows.

Sex appeal? Really?

Tony Abbott and Fiona Scott.

Tony Abbott and Fiona Scott. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

After the Coalition spent years toning back claims that Abbott has a "woman-problem," he chose to describe Fiona Scott - who is standing in the marginal seat of Lindsay - as "young", "feisty" and with a "bit of sex appeal" before he noted she was "very very connected with the local area".

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But if commentators were questioning the fact that the Opposition Leader was talking up the physical attributes of one of his candidates (as opposed to say, their brain power or their work ethic) they were largely doing so on their own.

Despite the fact that the so-called gender wars have been (had been?) raging in federal politics, you could almost see the tumbleweeds roll across the Labor camp yesterday afternoon.

Far from the days of Gillard's misogyny speech or men-with-blue-ties comments, when Fairfax Media checked in with Labor's campaign headquarters on the issue, it was met with: "Mr Abbott's comments are entirely a matter for Mr Abbott."

Senior Labor women who have previously come out fighting on gender issues under Julia Gillard's prime ministership were noticeably muted in their remarks.

When contacted by Fairfax Media on Wednesday, three senior Labor women - who have a history of outspokenness on gender in politics - declined to comment.

Responding to questions about why she had not commented on Mr Abbott's remarks on Tuesday, Employment Participation Minister Kate Ellis tweeted that she was out speaking to voters and "have heard loud & clear they want focus on THEIR issues".

On Wednesday morning, Finance Minister Penny Wong told ABC TV that she was not particularly surprised at the Opposition Leader's comment - but didn't want to buy into it either.

"People make their own minds up about it," she said.

To be fair, NSW Labor tweeted that "On September 7 we should vote for candidates based on #policyappeal, not #sexappeal" and Labor frontbencher Kim Carr called Abbott "pathetic".

But it was up to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in his Wednesday press conference to take on the Opposition Leader about the remarks - but again, only after he was prompted. And only after Twitter had been going berserk for half a day.

"If any male employer stood up in a workplace anywhere in Australia and pointing to a female staff member said this person is a good staff member because they've got sex appeal, I think people would scratch their heads at least and I think the employer would be finding themselves in serious strife," he said in Cairns.

"In modern Australia neither sexism nor racism nor homophobia has any place whatsoever and I believe people look to their national leaders to set that sort of example."

They are fighting words from Rudd but don't expect him to make a big or continued deal about it.

Labor has other fish to fry, grill and barbecue as it bids for re-election on September 7. So an off-message focus on Abbott's thoughts about sex appeal doesn't sit well with the ALP desire to talk about the economy. Or skills. Or the economy.

But it does makes you question the sincerity of the gender wars that have been waged recently - and with such feeling - on the federal political front.

Or maybe gender's just not an issue any more now that we don't have a female PM.

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