SYDNEY – Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Wednesday said there was ‘no place’ for sexism, racism or homophobia in Australia as election rival Tony Abbott laughed off his touting of a candidate’s sex appeal.
Abbott came under fire after praising the female conservative colleague while campaigning in western Sydney on Tuesday, renewing debate over misogyny in Australia which raged during former leader Julia Gillard’s time in office.
Rudd, who ousted Gillard as Labor leader in June, condemned the remarks.
“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 told reporters.
“My policy’s pretty simple, that in modern Australia, neither sexism nor racism nor homophobia has any place whatsoever. I believe people look to our national leaders to set that sort of example.”
Ex-trainee priest Abbott defended his blunder – the latest in a series of gaffes he has made about women – describing it Wednesday as a “dad moment, a daggy moment maybe”. Daggy is an Australian term for uncool, or not trendy.
He was under fire again almost immediately over remarks made in a radio interview about gay marriage. “I’m not someone who wants to see radical change based on the fashion of the moment,” Abbott said.
Rudd has vowed to introduce a bill legalising same-sex unions if re-elected in the September 7 polls, becoming the first Australian leader to promise to support marriage equality.
Abbott later back-pedalled, saying it was a “very significant issue” among many for his party ahead of the elections.
On Tuesday Abbott, the frontrunner to become prime minister, was asked about similarities between candidate Fiona Scott and her female predecessor in the western Sydney seat.
“They’re young, they’re feisty, I think I can probably say have a bit of sex appeal, and they’re just very, very connected with the local area,” the Liberal Party leader said.
His finance spokesman, Joe Hockey, rose to Abbott’s defence, saying the conservative leader did not mean any offence and was known for these kind of remarks.
“As long as it’s not offensive, I think we shouldn’t be afraid to say what we think,” he said, adding that Abbott described him as the “parliamentary George Clooney” to his colleagues.
Colin Barnett, conservative premier of Western Australia state, also defended Abbott, saying the comment “doesn’t matter that much” and people were a “bit sensitive these days”.
“Each party looks for young, fit, healthy-looking candidates,” Barnett said.
Former leader Gillard accused Abbott of misogyny and sexism in a galvanising parliamentary speech which went viral online last October and saw her become a torch-bearer for women across the globe.
Labor has repeatedly accused Abbott of sexism and Finance Minister Penny Wong, the most senior woman in the government, said she was unsurprised by his latest remarks.
“This is consistent with some of the views Mr Abbott has expressed over many, many years,” she said.
Abbott’s sex appeal blunder followed a gaffe on Monday in which he said no one person was the “suppository of all wisdom” – a mistaken reference to drug delivery through the rectum.