Tony Abbott on the losing side again after baby jibe at Julia Gillard backfires

Australia's opposition leader says he apologises 'if she wants to take offence' after family row

Sydney

Ever since the Australian opposition leader, Tony Abbott, recruited his wife, Margie, earlier this month to combat government claims that he has "problems with women", things have gone from bad to worse – and each time Mr Abbott hauls himself out of a hole, he starts digging again.

The facts are these: the opposition leader is married, with three grown-up daughters, while the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, lives with her partner and has no children. Holding that against her, it might seem obvious, is unlikely to endear Mr Abbott to female voters – indeed, one of his Liberal [centre-right] colleagues was roundly denounced a few years ago for calling Ms Gillard "deliberately barren".

So his minders must have been cringing yesterday when they heard his response to a government plan to reduce public spending by cutting a A$5,000 (£3,214) "baby bonus" paid to parents for a second or subsequent child by $2,000.

The Treasurer, Wayne Swan, explained that "after the first child you've already bought the cot, the pram and the other items that you can use again".

In an interview on morning TV, Mr Abbott declared that "if the government was a bit more experienced in this area, they wouldn't come out with glib lines like that". Amid a storm of criticism, he later denied that he had been having a dig at Ms Gillard, but apologised "if she wants to take offence". The Prime Minister's response was to suggest that "Mr Abbott can explain what he meant by that line".

A fortnight ago, Ms Gillard unleashed a devastating attack on Mr Abbott in parliament, accusing him of being a serial misogynist. Her 15-minute tirade, which he was forced to sit through, earned her plaudits around the world and has become an unlikely hit on YouTube.

Things looked so much rosier a week earlier, when Mrs Abbott made a joint TV appearance with Mr Abbott to declare him everything a woman could want in a husband "and more". She revealed that he cries in soppy films, and said their daughters were "in love with their father".

Far from her husband of 24 years being a sexist pig incapable of dealing with women in positions of power, he is a "soft touch", according to Mrs Abbott. She said: "Tony Abbott gets women and… the women in Tony Abbott's life certainly get him." The TV interview coincided with a series of newspaper features about the couple, all apparently aimed at highlighting Mr Abbott's feminine side.

If the charm offensive had any impact, the events of the past fortnight appear to have cancelled it out. According to an opinion poll this week, Ms Gillard's popularity rating rose to its highest for nearly two years in the wake of her parliamentary excoriation of Mr Abbott.

The opposition leader claimed yesterday that his latest remark was "entirely innocent", and that he had been referring to his experience with his two elder daughters, Louise, 23, and Frances, 21. He told Channel Seven that often "one child is still in the cot when the other one comes along, one child is still in the pram when the second one comes along, so you actually need to get an extra cot or a double-sized pram".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Facilities Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Facilities Manager is required to join the m...

Recruitment Genius: New Business Sales Consultant - Mobile - OTE £35,000

£14000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent telecoms compa...

Recruitment Genius: New Business Sales Consultant - Unified - OTE £35,000

£14000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent telecoms compa...

Recruitment Genius: Trade Sales Consultant - Furniture

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a besp...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum