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'Sexist' Abbott unfit to rule: PM

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Chief Political Correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald

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Gillard vs Abbott

Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott spent the last sitting day for the year locked in battle over the AWU affair.

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JULIA GILLARD says Tony Abbott is too negative, sexist and lightweight to run the country as she seeks to turn the Coalition's handling of the Slater & Gordon allegations to her advantage.

After a day in which the Coalition demanded the Prime Minister's resignation but Mr Abbott was unable to back up a claim she had engaged in criminal wrongdoing, Ms Gillard told Fairfax Media: ''The lesson from all of this is that negativity is hard-wired into this Leader of the Opposition.''

Mr Abbott has promised a more positive agenda and a full suite of costed policies before next year's election but Ms Gillard insisted positivity was not in his make-up and pointed to the Slater & Gordon allegations and his ''extreme'' carbon tax campaign as evidence.

Unable to back up a claim the Prime Minister engaged in criminal wrongdoing ... Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

Unable to back up a claim the Prime Minister engaged in criminal wrongdoing ... Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

''I note some Liberal strategists are saying they are going to reset him or rebuild him over summer as if he was a robot you could bolt another part on to but this kind of negativity is who he is and that will never change and that will shape the contest in 2013 between me and him …

''Leadership is about character and if all you can do is complain and divide and dig dirt then you are not a suitable person to run the country … it involves hard-headed policy work … If you want someone to design a complicated policy he'll never get that done; he is incapable of policy heavy-lifting,'' she said.

And she said even Mr Abbott's response to her now world-famous speech about misogyny and sexism had been sexist.

Mr Abbott said last month: ''Never, ever, will I attempt to say that as a man I have been the victim of powerful forces beyond my control and how dare any prime minister of Australia play the victim card.''

Ms Gillard said: ''I think it is actually a manifestation of deep sexism that you would say that if a woman raises her voice then that is her playing the victim as opposed to her standing up for her rights.''

She ''remained surprised'' about the reaction to the speech. ''I think it gave voice to the kind of frustrations that many women themselves have felt in their workplace, the times they have thought to themselves 'I am sick of that' or 'I should say something about that' but they have let the moment go.''

During an angry debate on Parliament's final sitting day, Mr Abbott did not repeat an earlier claim that Ms Gillard had committed a crime, asserting only that in her role providing advice on the incorporation of an association that was used as a slush fund by her then boyfriend and union boss, Bruce Wilson, she had engaged in ''possible unlawful behaviour'' and ''conduct unbecoming'' for a lawyer.

But afterwards Mr Abbott stood by the claim Ms Gillard had broken the law and demanded a full judicial inquiry.

Ms Gillard denied there had been any conflict between her acting for her boyfriend and her firm acting for the AWU at the time she gave the advice, saying that conflict had only arisen when Mr Wilson and Mr Blewitt were in dispute with the union they had worked for.

Asked if she wished she'd acted differently, she said: ''I can't put myself back in that moment with 20:20 hindsight. There was nothing before me when I did the work that would enable me to know we would end up here 20 years later … I have said publicly it would have been better if I had opened a file … but that is not what has led to the opposition's negativity.''

In Brisbane on Friday, Mr Abbott repeated his calls for a judicial inquiry to examine the allegations levelled at Ms Gillard.

''We need a full judicial inquiry to get to the bottom of this; if the Prime Minister has nothing to hide she won't be scared of an inquiry.''

And Mr Abbott took aim at the union movement more broadly, saying a judicial inquiry could shed light on  corruption within the movement.

''There are serious questions to answer; the whole question of corruption inside the union movement, which continues to this day, and one of the reasons why I doubt the ability of the current government and the Prime Minister to stamp all this out is because they are simply too compromised by their own past.''

Asked whether a Coalition government would introduce a judicial inquiry, Mr Abbott said: ‘‘The short answer is yes. But why should the decent, honest unionists and the decent honest union officials of this country have to wait 12 months [until after the election]? Why shouldn’t the government, which says that it is the workers’ friend, try to ensure that the workers of Australia aren’t being ripped off by corrupt officials?

‘‘Let’s have the inquiry, let’s have it now.’’

with Bianca Hall

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