'Young, feisty and with sex appeal'
Opposition leader Tony Abbott talks up Lindsay candidate Fiona Scott by likening her 'sex appeal' to former MP Jackie Kelly.PT0M51S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2ru3d 620 349 August 13, 2013
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has described one of his female candidates as "young, feisty" and having "sex appeal".
While campaigning in Sydney's west on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Abbott was asked what Lindsay candidate Fiona Scott had in common with former Coalition MP for Lindsay, Jackie Kelly.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott greets Liberal Party candidate Fiona Scott. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
"They're young, they're feisty," Mr Abbott said. "I can probably say they have a bit of sex appeal. And are just very, very connected with the local area".
The comments come as the Coalition has worked hard to combat perceptions that Mr Abbott has a "woman problem". On Tuesday afternoon, the hashtag "sexappeal" was trending on Twitter.
Questions about Mr Abbott's appeal to women have died down significantly since former prime minister Julia Gillard lost office in July.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Liberal candidate Fiona Scott pose with the campaign bus, in Penrith, NSW. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Ms Kelly held the seat of Lindsay from 1996 to 2007.
Labor frontbencher David Bradbury currently holds the seat on a margin of just 1.1 per cent.
Mr Abbott was at Penrith Stadium with Ms Scott and his daughter Frances on Tuesday to announce $12 million in funding for a community sports centre.
Asked later on Tuesday night whether he regretted the comments, he said ''I was a bit exuberant today''.
''Fiona and I have been mates for a long time... It's obvious that Fiona is a smart, hard-working candidate who knows the electorate backwards and inside out.''
In its campaign material, the Liberal Party says Ms Scott is a Nepean Valley resident who was born and raised locally.
"Her family was one of the original farming families of the region that has maintained its close bond with our community."
When asked, Labor Party campaign headquarters had no comment about Mr Abbott's remarks on Tuesday afternoon.
"Mr Abbott's comments are entirely a matter for Mr Abbott," a campaign spokesperson said.
Greens leader Christine Milne savaged Mr Abbott for his comments about Ms Scott, saying they were ''superficial and sexist''.
''Why didn't he talk about professionalism or policy or intellect?'' Senator Milne asked.
''What it demonstrates is that for the Coalition, female politicians are just accessories. They don't take them seriously and the fact that Tony Abbott in the midst of his totally stage-managed performances still refers to women in this way shows you what you would be getting with Tony Abbott as prime minister.''
Tanja Kovac, the national co-convenor of ALP-aligned feminist organisation EMILY's List, said Mr Abbott's remarks were ''just another in a long line of lecherous and demeaning comments about women'' that the Opposition Leader had made.
"Abbott's comments are not an isolated gaffe,'' Ms Kovac said.
''He seems to be programmed to be offensive to women during election campaigns. In 2007, when things weren't going his way, he swore in front of the cameras at Nicola Roxon. In 2010 he used a well-known rape metaphor – 'No means Yes' – to attack Julia Gillard. Who can be surprised that he reduces a talented woman in his own party to a sex object?"
Feminist commentator Eva Cox said Mr Abbott's comments were ''amazingly inept and silly''.
''I don't think it was deeply sexist, it just shows how out of touch he is talking about gender - he just doesn't get it,'' Ms Cox said.
Shadow Assistant Treasurer Mathias Cormann told Sky News that Mr Abbott's remarks were "clearly a lighthearted comment ... I'm sure that he meant no offence by it."
Mr Abbott's comment about Ms Scott and Ms Kelly comes a day after his misplaced use of the word suppository made headlines overseas and trended on Twitter.
US president Barack Obama apologised in April after he praised California's Kamala Harris as "the best looking attorney-general in the country".
"You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you'd want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake," Mr Obama said at a Democratic party fundraiser in San Francisco said.
"She also happens to be, by far, the best looking attorney-general in the country."
With Daniel Hurst, Dan Harrison