Australia’s opposition leader apologised to Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Tuesday for suggesting that her government is inexperienced in family policy. Some saw the comment as a cheap shot at the Prime Minister, who has no children.
Tony Abbott’s apology came two weeks after Ms. Gillard, Australia’s first woman Prime Minister, branded him a misogynist in an extraordinary attack in a speech to Parliament.
Ms. Gillard took offense on Tuesday when Mr. Abbott attacked the government’s announcement that it was reducing the amount of public money parents receive for every newborn.
Parents are currently paid 5,000 Australian dollars ($5,160) for each baby.
But from mid-2013, each second and subsequent baby will earn parents only AU$3,000, with government officials explaining that such families could reuse items such as cribs and strollers.
Mr. Abbott argued that parents sometimes needed to buy a second crib or a larger stroller that could carry two children.
“I think if the government was a bit more experienced in this area, they wouldn’t come out with glib lines like that,” Mr. Abbott told Seven Network television.
The incident has reminded some of a furore created five years ago by Senator Bill Heffernan, a colleague in Mr. Abbott’s conservative Liberal Party, who said Ms. Gillard, now aged 51, did not deserve a leadership role because she had decided not to have children. Ms. Gillard on Tuesday called on Mr. Abbott to explain his remark.
“On families and pressures with children, the government is certainly working with Australian families and we understand many families are struggling to make ends meet,” she told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio. Trade Minister Craig Emerson accused Mr. Abbott of “making inferences” against Ms. Gillard. All 22 Cabinet ministers have children except for Ms. Gillard and Foreign Minister Bob Carr.
Mr. Abbott denied that his remark was aimed at Ms. Gillard, but offered an apology.
“If she wants to take offence, of course I’m sorry about that. And if she would like me to say sorry, I’m sorry,” Mr. Abbott told Fairfax Media radio said.
The sexism accusations are damaging for Mr. Abbott, who opinion polls show is unpopular with women voters.