Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Labor turnaround targets Abbott for all-out assault - Sydney Morning Herald

Tony Abbott holds a media conference in Brisbane on Wednesday morning.

Tony Abbott holds a media conference in Brisbane on Wednesday morning.

Labor plans to put Tony Abbott's character at the centre of the election campaign after a third stumble by the Opposition Leader in three days.

Despite having presented Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as a beacon of positive politics, Labor strategists have called game on for an all-out assault on Mr Abbott.

In an interview on Wednesday, Mr Abbott appeared to dismiss same-sex marriage as ''the fashion of the moment''. Finance Minister Penny Wong, who is in a long-term same-sex relationship, tweeted: ''Note to Mr Abbott: Equality is not a fashion item.''

The criticism came after Mr Abbott referred on Tuesday to the ''sex appeal'' of the Liberal candidate for Lindsay, Fiona Scott, and a slip of the tongue on Monday when he said no one was ''the suppository of all wisdom''.


The Labor campaign initially decided against commenting on the sex appeal quip, but Mr Rudd came out swinging on Wednesday, declaring any male employer who stood up in a workplace and praised a female employee's sex appeal would be ''in serious strife''.

''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,'' Mr Rudd said.

Mr Abbott hit back, calling Labor ''pathetic'' for trying to ''raise this sort of thing in an attempt to claw back votes in a campaign they're losing''.

He played down his ''daggy dad moment'' and said he was not sexist.

In a radio interview with John Laws, he described Ms Scott in different terms: ''She has the X factor; that's what she's got.''

Ms Scott described the original comment as a lighthearted compliment, while Coalition frontbencher Christopher Pyne said he wished people would describe him as having sex appeal.

Former Liberal prime minister John Howard told The Australian Women's Weekly anyone offended by Mr Abbott's ''absolutely harmless'' comment on Ms Scott and her ''sex appeal'' should ''get a life … You've got to have a sense of proportion.''

Labor attack ads about cuts that Mr Abbott may make to spending were due to begin airing on Wednesday night. It is understood the party is considering a second tranche of ads that would illuminate some of his perceived weaknesses and old-fashioned stance.

''This campaign is now going to be about a choice between a 20th-century man [Abbott] and the future [Rudd],'' a senior ALP strategist said.

Labor believes Mr Abbott's stance on marriage equality casts him as stuck in the past and any voter in their 20s would have trouble supporting him.

Mr Abbott told Laws on Wednesday he supported the traditional definition of marriage. While he affirmed his opposition to discrimination based on race, religion, gender or sexuality, he said the nation had to respect its traditions. ''I'm not someone who wants to see radical change based on the fashion of the moment.''

Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Mr Abbott was out of touch with modern Australia and the description of sexual orientation as a fashion statement would deeply offend many people.

Campaigning north of Brisbane, Mr Abbott acknowledged same-sex marriage was a ''very significant issue'' but not the only one facing Australia.

His lesbian sister Christine Forster told the ABC this week Mr Abbott had felt conflicted about vowing against same-sex marriage last year and every time the issue came up she noticed ''slight, very small shifts''.

With Judith Ireland
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