UNDER THE FLAG

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All smiles: Tony Abbott greets Bill Shorten at the Women's Day breakfast. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

During her prime ministership, Julia Gillard was often accused of playing the gender card. This was not generally hailed as a good thing, but at certain times - for example, on International Women's Day - the gender card was an ace that came in handy.

For, despite the unkind remarks of Senator Bill Heffernan, La Gillard at least had authentic woman's experience on which to draw for speeches to mark the day.

Being, by all appearances, fully male, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten have no such material to access.

So, during an International Women's Day breakfast on Tuesday, both men reached for something different and less controversial: the Daughter Card. Brushing aside the fact that both men played pivotal roles in knocking off Australia's first female prime minister, the pair battled for the title of Best Bloke by speaking of their daughters.

Abbott quipped that nothing will turn an ''un-reconstructed bloke'' into a feminist like having three daughters. While Shorten spoke tenderly of his two daughters and how he wanted them to be ''safe and resilient''.

Abbott used the theme of his feminist conversion to put the case for his Paid Parental Leave scheme, which is so unpopular within the Coalition that some members have begun to openly rebel against it.

The fact that a traditionalist such as he had come up with the scheme had wrong-footed both left and right-wingers, he said.

''It is a bit like when[Richard] Nixon went to China,'' Abbott said.

''Conservatives thought, 'My God, has he suddenly abandoned the faith?' Progressives thought, 'My God, is China no longer a progressive country?'"

''The truth is this was a historic breakthrough.''

And so it was, and although it is an unusual politician who willingly compares himself to president Nixon, the crowd caught his vibe.

Now the Prime Minister just has to convince the Nationals, the economic dries, and the Opposition - who up until now thought they had a monopoly on all things Woman.

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