Opposition Leader Tony Abbott addressed the National Farmers Federation in Canberra yesterday. Photo: Andrew Meares
You would think that in the current climate, MPs would vigorously avoid saying anything that could possibly be construed as criticism of Julia Gillard's private life.
With broadcaster Alan Jones and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's recent Gillardian remarks tuning everyone's ears to outrage, having a personal dig at the Prime Minister would be the political equivalent of standing in the middle of a golf course during an electrical storm, waving your clubs in the air. And yet, early yesterday morning, Abbott appeared to do just that.
After Treasurer Wayne Swan's explanation of the baby bonus cut (once you've bought the pram and the cot for the first one, you can use them again for the second and third), Abbott told breakfast TV that often you've still got one in a cot/pram when the other ''comes along''.
He then hypothesised: ''I think if the government was a bit more experienced in this area, they wouldn't come out with glib lines like that.''
Australia looked up from its muesli. Sorry, what now? Abbott didn't just have a crack at Gillard (who Senator Bill Heffernan once attacked as ''deliberately barren'') for being inexperienced in kid matters … did he?
The Opposition Leader did not use specific names and his office quickly played down the comments. But then again, almost everyone in cabinet had children. Finance Minister Penny Wong even welcomed her first child with partner Sophie Allouache less than a year ago and knows all about cots and prams. So what kind of ''experience'' was Abbott referring to?
Gillard's response suggested that she thought she was the target. She stonily informed the airwaves that it was up to Abbott to explain what he meant by ''that line''.
George Brandis insisted Abbott was commenting on the government being out of touch with ''ordinary families''.
''You wonder what planet some of these people come from when you have a Treasurer who is able to say [that] the more children you have, the less it costs you,'' the shadow attorney-general said.
Before lunch, Abbott had booked himself an interview to explain. Abbott sounded mildly surprised when he told Fairfax Radio that he was most certainly not talking about Gillard. Or barrenness.
''I was alluding to my own experience,'' he said. He explained two of his daughters were born 15 months apart and required a double pram.
''If she [Gillard] wants to take offence, of course I'm sorry about that. And if she would like me to say sorry, I'm sorry,'' he said with some decidedly childlike huff.
Indeed, Abbott the dad didn't sound particularly sorry. But when it comes to glib lines, perhaps Abbott the politician will listen to his own advice.