Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey has laughed off Tony Abbott's comments about a female candidate's "sex appeal", noting that the Opposition Leader had previously compared him with movie star George Clooney.
While campaigning in Sydney's west on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Abbott was asked what Lindsay candidate Fiona Scott had in common with former Liberal Party MP for Lindsay, Jackie Kelly.
Tony Abbott greets Fiona Scott. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
"They're young, they're feisty," Mr Abbott said. "I can probably say have a bit of sex appeal. And are just very, very connected with the local area."
The comments sparked a backlash on social media and drew criticism from feminists.
Labor frontbencher Kim Carr said Mr Abbott was "really pathetic".
But on Tuesday evening, Mr Hockey dismissed any controversy on the matter.
"Tony says it to me often that I'm a sexy guy. We've got a special kind of love going," he told Channel 10's The Project.
"In front of my colleagues he said that I look like the parliamentary George Clooney."
Mr Hockey added that: "As long as it's not offensive, I think we shouldn't be afraid to say what we think."
When a presenter noted it was up to women to decide if the comments were offensive, Mr Hockey replied: "And they will."
Today, Mr Abbott explained the comments by saying he had a "dad moment".
Addressing reporters in Brisbane this morning, Mr Abbott said: "As the kids suggested to me, I had a dad moment. A daggy dad moment."
He was supported by his finance spokesman, Andrew Robb, who said the sex appeal comment was made in "jest" and talked up Mr Abbott's deep respect for women, including his professional wife Margie, three daughters and sister.
In a show of support, NSW Liberal minister Pru Goward, a former sex discrimination commissioner, said she saw nothing wrong with highlighting a candidate's sex appeal.
"I think a lot of politicians are described as sexy," she told Macquarie Radio.
Apart from Senator Carr's criticism of Mr Abbott, Labor MPs have been muted in their comments.
Finance Minister Penny Wong told ABC TV on Wednesday that she was not particularly surprised at the Opposition Leader's comment about Ms Scott and Ms Kelly, saying it was consistent with the views he had expressed for many years.
"People make their own minds up about it," she said.
A Labor Party campaign spokesman yesterday said: "Mr Abbott's comments are entirely a matter for Mr Abbott."
- with AAP