Prime Minister Julia Gillard opposite Tony Abbott during Question Time at Parliament House. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Tony Abbott just can't help his competitive aggression.
After being lectured by Julia Gillard the previous day for misogynist cat calls during question time, he murmured yesterday that the Prime Minister is ''a piece of work''.
He withdrew when the PM objected, whereas in the past she has let it go.
The brawl may have subsided but this exchange demonstrates the tension between the two principal antagonists in federal parliament remains electric.
They don't like each other and they make no secret of that.
Labor will continue to say Abbott's aggressive style is a turn-off for women.
It hopes voters remember the Prime Minister's forceful speech against misogyny, and that this eclipses criticism of her support for Peter Slipper.
Abbott wants to turn the issue onto more familiar conservative territory, with his claim the government is playing the gender card. But the PM's quick rejoinder to his remark is a demonstration of her ''new self''. ''I've had enough,'' she repeated yesterday. ''When I see sexism and misogyny I'm going to call them for what they are.''
Clearly Abbott won't back off his charge that Gillard is a hypocrite.
The Coalition claims the Prime Minister was hypocritical when defending the indefensible, by opposing Abbott's motion of no confidence in Peter Slipper after the publication of his vile text messages. This is a key theme the Coalition will return to, in its campaign that Labor engages in double standards and dishonesty.
Julie Bishop tried out the line yesterday: ''[Julia Gillard] will be remembered as the Prime Minister who let down the women of Australia when she was put to the test.''
Labor hadn't expected to be wedged by Abbott's bold strike on Wednesday.
After an initial fumble in tactics, Gillard was on fire, finally unleashing two years of anger over Abbott's attitude. But, after she stood by her man, it was the independents who brought Slipper down.
Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott voted with Labor to give it a victory - by one vote - over Abbott's call for the immediate sacking of Slipper.
Despite saving him the embarrassment of being dismissed by Parliament, they told Slipper his position was untenable - the very theme that Abbott had put so strongly in Parliament.
The government may believe it can breathe a bit easier after Slippery Pete voted with Labor yesterday on a significant procedural motion.
However, the former Speaker is now in a powerful position as an independent and it would be remarkable if he doesn't screw this advantage for all its worth.
Labor does not have to rely solely on his vote in the House of Representatives but his support would be a handy buffer if Andrew Wilkie again decides to side with the Coalition.