Finance Minister Penny Wong

Not complaining, nor is the Prime Minister ... Penny Wong Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

JULIA GILLARD has refused to say whether Finance Minister Penny Wong should receive the top spot on Labor's Senate ticket for South Australia.

At its state conference on the weekend the South Australian Labor Party gave Don Farrell – a low-profile factional leader known mostly for his role in the coup which installed Ms Gillard as Prime Minister – the No.1 spot on the Labor ticket, relegating Senator Wong to second place.

The decision has infuriated government figures, including cabinet minister Anthony Albanese, who is threatening to ask the ALP national executive to overturn the decision.

Interviewed on ABC radio this morning, Ms Gillard said the decision meant both senators would be returned to parliament after the next election.

"Penny Wong is an incredibly valued member of my team," Ms Gillard said.

"I am the one that promoted Penny Wong to the pivotal role of Finance Minister. I was so admiring of her capabilities I put her at the centre of the economic team," she said.

Ms Gillard said Senator Farrell was "serving the government well" as parliamentary secretary for sustainability and urban water.

But Ms Gillard would not say whether she thought Senator Wong should head the Labor ticket or whether she supported national executive intervention to reverse the state conference decision.

Asked whether she felt humiliated, Senator Wong said she was "honoured" to be preselected. Interviewed on Channel Seven, she said she would not engage in public commentary about "internal party processes".

Coalition frontbencher Christopher Pyne said Senator Wong's relegation to second spot on the ticket proved Ms Gillard did not really care about sexism despite attacking Tony Abbott over the issue.

"What this does is completely expose the fact that the Prime Minister's indignation about so-called sexism was simply a manufactured campaign to distract the Australian public," he told reporters in Canberra.

"If there was any truth at all to the idea that the government thought misogyny or sexism was an important issue in Australia, Penny Wong would not have been placed down the ticket as a cabinet minister behind one of the faceless men in Don Farrell."

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said the outcome showed ''the faceless men'' were in charge of the Labor party.

''The only possible explanation for putting an unknown parliamentary secretary at the top of the Senate ticket ahead of one of the government's most senior ministers is that the faceless men are calling the shots in the Labor party and I make this prediction: the Prime Minister will not take them on because she absolutely depends on them.''

Mimicking the government's attacks on Mr Abbott, Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop said the placement showed "some people in Labor have a problem with capable women".

"To ensure that a backroom union boss is No.1 on the ticket over a high-profile senior female cabinet minister indicates that sexism is alive and well in the Labor party," she said.

Senator Wong should feel betrayed by Ms Gillard, who intervened in a NSW state preselection battle to protect backbencher Laurie Ferguson, she said.

"Julia Gillard should clean up her own backyard when it comes to sexism before attacking Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party," Ms Bishop said.

Labor MP Nick Champion said he was proud to have voted for Seantor Farrell, saying the Senator represented more traditional Labor.

Senator Wong, a member of the Left faction, was from the progressive side of the Labor movement.

"It's just a reflection of those two different traditions," Mr Champion said of the conference vote.

"It wasn't a brawl."

with AAP