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Liberal senator Sue Boyce slams Abbott 'sexism'

Date

Jonathan Swan Simone Ziaziaris

Senator Sue Boyce gives her valedictory speech.

Senator Sue Boyce gives her valedictory speech. Photo: Andrew Meares

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is ''a sexist'' and the Coalition has been ''dog whistling'' with its asylum seeker policies, says retiring Liberal senator Sue Boyce in an extraordinary exit interview.

Reflecting on her career in Parliament - she retires at the end of June - Senator Boyce said she thought Julia Gillard's famous misogyny speech was ''powerful'' and, for Ms Gillard's purposes, ''a brilliant speech''. But she thought the former prime minister had used the wrong word to describe Mr Abbott.

''I think it would have been more accurate if she had called him a sexist,'' she said.

Illustration: Matt Golding.

Illustration: Matt Golding.

''But singling [Mr Abbott] out as a sexist was not reasonable either,'' she added, saying the Prime Minister was one of many ''subtle'' sexists in federal Parliament.

Senator Boyce did not offer examples for Mr Abbott's alleged sexism and conceded she had found the Prime Minister more willing to listen to the views of women than many of her other male colleagues.

She also commended the Prime Minister for his paid parental leave scheme, and said some of the older male Nationals MPs who opposed it ''still yearn for the life when … proper mothers stayed home and looked after the children and proper fathers who had their slippers handed to them''.

Senator Boyce, who describes herself as a feminist and among a dwindling number of moderates in the federal Coalition, has been out of favour with senior people in the party for her left-leaning social views. She says she hopes her party drifts back towards the centre.

In her maiden speech seven years ago, Senator Boyce said she was determined to push for more female representation in Parliament. On that objective she said she had ''failed'', especially given there was only one woman - Foreign Minister Julie Bishop - and 18 men in Mr Abbott's cabinet.

Senator Boyce is proudest of her party's support for the National Disability Insurance Scheme but is concerned the Coalition is swinging too far to the right - particularly on issues such as asylum seekers, action against climate change and same-sex marriage.

''I think the whole asylum seeker issue is sort of fraught with dog whistling,'' she said, adding that she did not appreciate the language used by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. ''I mean, for example, I do not use the term 'illegal maritime arrivals','' she said.

Senator Boyce suggested her colleagues saw the ''dog whistling'' as necessary to win public support for their harsh treatment of asylum seekers, including detention in offshore camps.

But she admitted she did not know how to treat asylum seekers more humanely without having a ''pull-through'' factor. Still, she said she ''would like to see us behaving more humanely''.

''I am not sure how you would go about having general public acceptance for the policies that we have if the people who were coming were seen as genuine refugees.''

Asked whether humanising asylum seekers would undermine the Coalition's policies, Senator Boyce replied: ''Yeah''. But she acknowledged the success of the Coalition's policies that have led to six months with no boat arrivals and no deaths at sea. An estimated 1000 asylum seekers drowned en route to Australia under the previous Labor governments' policies.

''Scott [Morrison] is an extremely Christian person,'' Senator Boyce said. ''And no I don't understand it but he very much believes that what he is doing is the right thing and will produce a good and humane result in the end.''

Neither the Prime Minister nor Mr Morrison responded to Senator Boyce's comments.

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