Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has accused former prime minister Julia Gillard of undermining political standards and promised to restore faith in government and Parliament if he wins the election.
Mr Abbott said Ms Gillard had reduced national politics to a contest of ''crude political head-banging'' and had driven an ''over the top'' campaign to damage his reputation. While both sides of politics had used aggressive tactics during the three years of minority government, both Ms Gillard and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd were primarily to blame for ''demeaning'' the conduct of national politics, he said.
''The problem with the Parliament at the moment is that almost nothing is ever said which isn't basically crude political head-banging,'' he said in an exclusive interview with Fairfax Media. ''Both sides are guilty but I think that as prime minister Gillard was particularly bad at it.''
Mr Abbott said he understood Ms Gillard faced pressure during her three years as leader from the opposition and from Mr Rudd and his supporters.
''She was always in the fight of her life and she didn't only have the enemy in front but she had the enemy behind,'' he said. ''I don't want to be too sanctimonious about this given the pressure she was under, but it is demeaning to our polity and dispiriting to our people when there is no assumption of good faith, no benefit of the doubt given. The Parliament always takes it cue from the prime minister.''
The assault on his character launched with a speech in Parliament last October in which Ms Gillard branded him a misogynist was ''completely invalid and unfair'', he said. ''You go into this business and you've got to take your lumps, but I certainly thought the then prime minister went right over the top. It may may have been a coup de theatre … I didn't think it was and none of the news reports that night thought it was, but subsequently it was said to have been one because it allegedly went viral overseas. I don't study the internet enough to know whether it did. But that certainly, I thought, was unfair and over the top.''
Labor had been relentless in its personal attacks on him during the past four years, Mr Abbott said.
''Basically every day since I became Opposition Leader the prime minister of the day with several ministers in support has come out to say that I am the world's worst so-and-so.
''The government has a very big megaphone and while the current government has been hopeless at administration, by God, they have been good at politics. At least a part of my supposed unpopularity is due to the fact that I have been smeared by experts up hill and down dale.''
Mr Abbott conceded that he and former treasurer Peter Costello had been parliamentary ''hard men'' during the former Howard government.
''But I don't think that the parliamentary argie-bargie when Costello and I were in full cry involved anything like the level of personal animus that at different times it has more recently,'' he said.
If he became prime minister, a priority would be to seek to restore trust in government and civility in Parliament. ''The greatest deficit in our country at the moment is the trust deficit. Sure we have got a very serious budget deficit but the trust deficit is even more serious,'' he said.
''I would hope that, should we win the election, I would be able to conduct myself and my team would be able to so conduct themselves that by the end of the first term people would have once more concluded that Australian government was competent and trustworthy.''