Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. Photo: Max Mason-Hubers

TONY Abbott has said that Julia Gillard must take responsibility for the personal campaign against him, as former attorney-general Robert McClelland at the weekend attacked the vilification used in current public debate as ''un-Australian''.

Mr McClelland also suggested that political advisers to the prime minister and others should beware of encouraging personal attacks.

Meanwhile, ministers appeared at odds over pursuing the personal attacks on the Opposition Leader for allegedly having problems with women - a claim vigorously rejected by his wife, Margie, in a media blitz on Friday.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr said that ''any observations made by the Labor team about the threatening stance his policies represent to the status of women in Australia [have] obviously been made.

''But I think we move on and assume that Australian women voters, like Australian voters in general, will find their own way to … settling on conclusions here,'' he told Sky.

Senator Carr said of Mrs Abbott's defence of her husband: ''Words of Shakespeare, maybe she does protest too much,'' but added, ''she is obviously a charming woman and the Liberals are entitled to bring her on to the political debate.''

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said ''good on Margie Abbott - she obviously loves her husband'', but made it clear she was not going to be deterred from attacking Mr Abbott over the women's issue.

Mr Abbott was running for PM, not husband of the year or father of the year. ''It's fair game for me, or any other senior minister … to hold him to account for his public behaviour and his public comments,'' she told the ABC, saying he turned his back on her when she spoke in Parliament. ''We don't like each other,'' she said.

She described the Liberals' tag of ''handbag hit squad'' for the senior Labor women who have been attacking Mr Abbott as ''a bit of reverse sexism''.

''People probably know that actually women in the Gillard government are responsible for more than half of the federal budget. We also have the finance minister and prime minister as women. Do people expect that we won't go out and argue our case as strongly as we can?''

Mr Abbott, asked on Ten who he blamed for the personal attacks against him, said: ''In the end, I suppose the person who has got to take responsibility for what happens with any political party is the leader.''

Mr McClelland, who was dumped from the ministry by Ms Gillard, told the Australian Christian Lobby conference he had found the personal vilification that had come into parliamentary and public debate ''more than unseemly. It is un-Australian.'' He said people should play the ball and not the man, and lashed out at political advisers who encouraged this.

''I might say to some of those advisers who draft what they regard as very clever lines that it is entirely counterproductive and politically naive,'' he said. ''You can always get a line by vilifying someone … but at the end of the day you're … judged on what you've achieved.''

Ms Gillard withdrew from speaking at the conference some time ago after the chief of the organisation, Jim Wallace, compared the health risks of smoking with what he described as a homosexual ''lifestyle''.

On another front, Ms Roxon indicated she had strong views about the sexist text messages that Speaker Peter Slipper sent to James Ashby, which have been revealed in the court action brought by Mr Ashby. But she said it would not be appropriate to comment. Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop has called for the government and Labor women in particular to withdraw support for Mr Slipper continuing to hold the position of speaker.

Ms Roxon admitted it had been wrong for her office to let Mr Slipper use the car park of the Federal Court. She has an office in the building. ''That, I think, certainly … was a mistake.''

With AAP

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