Radio host Jon Faine has dismissed claims that Tony Abbott’s “wink” was in response to a smile from him when a chronically ill grandmother said on air that said she worked on a phone sex line to pay her bills.
While appearing on Melbourne radio station 774 yesterday, Mr Abbott winked and then smirked as ‘Gloria’, a pensioner, said she supplemented her income by work on a phone sex line. She said she would have to find at least $850 more a year following a federal budget including contentious Medicare co-payments.
“It is a complete fabrication to say I winked at the Prime Minister or smirked or something like that, nor was I indicating that he needed my permission for the interview to continue which was also the statement from the Prime Minister’s office,” Mr Faine said on 774 this morning.
The comments come after the Prime Minister’s office said that Mr Abbott winked to indicate to the host that he was happy to continue with the call.
But early today the Prime Minister admitted the wink was a mistake, and contradicted claims from Mr Faine that he was also smiling.
“Look, I was looking at Jon Faine, he was smiling at me and I winked back at him,” Mr Abbott said to Karl Stefanovic on the Today Show. “I shouldn’t have done it, Karl.”
The Prime Minister said it was important to engage with people who want to talk to him.
“I was attempting to do that. I was momentarily distracted by the interviewer. Mistakes are always regrettable Karl, and I will do my best, having made a mistake yesterday to make none today.”
Mr Faine said he raised his eyebrows but revealed Mr Abbott appeared “nervous”.
“Whether it was a sort of private school boy snicker at the mere mention of the word ‘sex’ or … a Benny Hill moment, everyone who watches it will make up their own mind,” Mr Faine told ABC TV this morning.
“I do think it has got way out of all proportion.”
Gloria had taken Mr Abbott to task over changes to pension arrangements and the planned introduction of a $7 GP co-payment in last week’s budget.
“I just survive on around $400 a fortnight after I pay my rent,” she told Mr Abbott.
“I work on an adult sex line to make ends meet. Now that’s the only way I can do it.”
Mr Abbott was widely criticised for the wink, including by Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young who described him as a “total creep”.
The faux pas, which was caught on camera, comes as the Prime Minister faces a collapse in his personal approval rating.
The coalition is suffering in the opinion polls in the wake of the budget, with Labor having opened a 10-point lead on a two-party preferred basis at 55 per cent to 45 per cent.
But the Prime Minister rejected any speculation nervous coalition MPs could seek to replace him ahead of the next election if support continued to wane.
“I think what we need in this country right now is not an action replay of the last six years,” he said.
Not the first time
The “wink” incident is not the first time Tony Abbott, who is also Minister for Women, views regarding women have been called into question.
In the 2013 election campaign when asked to compare then outgoing Coalition MP Jackie Kelly with then-candidate Fiona Scott, one of the attributes he came up with was “sex appeal”.
Mr Abbott also inspired former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s misogny speech, after giving a lecture on sexism in parliament.
“The speech was a crack point,” Ms Gillard said at the time. “I thought after everything I have experienced, I have to listen to Tony Abbott lecture me about sexism.”