Playing down claims of sexism ... Peta Credlin and the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
LABOR has accused Tony Abbott of trying to jack up his standing with female voters after his top adviser, Peta Credlin, gave an interview defending her boss against sexism claims and talking about her own IVF treatment.
Ms Credlin, who is the Opposition Leader's chief of staff, has taken the unusual step of speaking to women's magazine Marie Claire, describing her boss as deeply supportive of her efforts to have a child through IVF with her husband, the federal director of the Liberal Party, Brian Loughnane. This included keeping her fertility drugs in his parliamentary office fridge.
The normally private Ms Credlin, 41, told the magazine Mr Abbott's views on abortion, contraception and IVF were far more balanced and nuanced than many people believe.
But the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, said Mr Abbott was clearly trying to fix his image problem with women. Australians would ultimately judge him on his public comments over his nearly two decades in politics, she said.
''Mr Abbott is not a new figure on the public field,'' Ms Roxon said. ''He has many years of record to stand by and those are the things that people rightly will judge him on.
''I think it's clear from these sorts of stories that the Liberal Party research must be showing that Mr Abbott does have a problem with women and that he is trying to do something about it.''
Asked whether Ms Credlin was part of a cynical ploy to win female votes, Ms Roxon said it was up to individuals whether they told their personal stories.
In her interview, Ms Credlin said she asked Mr Abbott about his views before she agreed to work with him in 2010 and was satisfied with his answers.
According to reports on Sunday, Ms Credlin told Mr Abbott: ''I will just never agree with you on abortion. I think you are opposed to it, desperately opposed to it, and you would ban it if you could.''
Mr Abbott replied: ''Well, that's just bullshit. I believe it should be safe, legal and rare.''
Mr Abbott, who is a Catholic, also told her he strongly supported IVF and did not oppose contraception.
The latest bid to reassure Australian women about Mr Abbott's attitudes follows the entry of Mr Abbott's wife, Margie, into political debate as well as his sister, Christine Forster.