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Vote for woman with sex appeal, says Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott

Liberal leader lives up to his reputation for sexism during poll campaign

If you aspire to be Prime Minister and already have a reputation for sexism, deserved or not, it probably isn’t a wise idea to cite “sex appeal” as a leading attribute of one of your female candidates.

Australia’s opposition leader, Tony Abbott, probably already knew that – but he got carried away by “exuberance” while campaigning in a key marginal constituency with his Liberal Party candidate, Fiona Scott, he explained later.

Asked what Ms Scott had in common with Jackie Kelly, the former Liberal MP for the seat of Lindsay, in western Sydney, Mr Abbott replied: “They’re young, they’re feisty – I think I can probably say, [they] have a bit of sex appeal.”

The remark by the Liberal leader – who was accused of sexism and misogyny by the former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, in a celebrated speech to parliament last year – caused a predictable Twitter storm and was condemned by his rivals. “He really is pathetic,” said a Labor minister, Kim Carr. “Sometimes we should think he really hasn’t crawled out of the 1950s.”

Ms Scott laughed awkwardly at Mr Abbott’s comment, according to witnesses, while her daughter, Frances, who was also standing at his side, visibly squirmed. He said later: “I was a bit exuberant today… but we’re all working incredibly hard to get her [Ms Scott] elected.”

Ms Kelly, who was MP for Lindsay for 11 years, said that she was nearly 50 and had two children. “There’s not much sex appeal here,” she said.

On Monday, Mr Abbott, whose Liberal-National Party coalition is four points ahead of Labor in the polls, provoked derision –and a great deal of toilet humour – when he declared that “nobody is the suppository of all knowledge” while criticising Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Also with him was another Liberal candidate, Jaymes Diaz, who achieved unwanted notoriety last week when – during an excruciating television interview – he was unable to detail his own party’s six-point plan for cracking down on asylum-seekers, beyond repeating, haplessly, that “we have a plan to stop the boats”.

The interview, which had received more than 41,000 views on YouTube as of last night, drew sympathy even from Labor politicians. After being whisked away for “media training”, Mr Diaz – who is standing in another western Sydney marginal constituency, Greenway – reappeared in public for the first time today, but dodged questions.

“I’ve got to go out there and campaign,” he said, when asked again about the six-point plan.

Lindsay, home to a substantial number of Anglo-Australian voters, has always been held by the party of government. The sitting MP is David Bradbury, Mr Rudd’s assistant treasurer, who has a majority of just over one per cent.