Former PM Tony Abbott has been lambasted on British TV as a misogynistic, homophobic climate-denier.
The British government is under growing pressure to dump Mr Abbott as a trade adviser before he has even been officially appointed to the role.
Scotland’s leader, Nicola Sturgeon, has described him as a “misogynist” and a “sexist” and in the latest awkward encounter for a government minister, Health Secretary Matt Hancock was forced to defend Mr Abbott’s conduct on Britain’s Sky News.
“He’s a homophobe and a misogynist,” declared presenter Kay Burley.
“Well, he’s also an expert in trade,” Mr Hancock said.
Burley referred Mr Hancock, who was wearing a rainbow “NHS pride” badge, to Mr Abbott’s comments about homosexuality in 2010, in which he said he would “probably feel a bit threatened”.
She also asked him to consider Mr Abbott’s 1998 comments, in which he said:
“What if men are by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?”
Burley asked Mr Hancock whether a “homophobic misogynist” was fit to represent Britain.
“We need an expert in different areas and someone who is the former prime minister of Australia is obviously an enormous expert in the field of trade,” Mr Hancock said.
Mr Abbott has flown Britain ahead of his expected appointment to the country’s Board of Trade, which will advise the government on future negotiations.
He has been under heavy scrutiny since it emerged he was being lined up for the role.
He has also been criticised for suggesting older people should be left to die from coronavirus, to spare younger generations from the economic burden.
Conservative MP Caroline Nokes has also condemned the expected appointment.
“This is such a bad idea, I’m not sure I can come up with words for how awful I think it is,” she told the BBC on Tuesday.
On Friday, senior Coalition minister Mathias Cormann leapt to the defence of his former party leader.
“From where I sit, Tony Abbott is clearly a giant of Australian politics who has made a great contribution over a long time,” Senator Cormann told Sky News.
“Not everyone will agree with him, but people are entitled to their views, and that’s the way things work in a democracy.”
Mr Abbott’s sister Christine Forster acknowledged the former PM was an unabashed conservative, but said he possessed great compassion and respect for others.
“It is nothing short of dishonesty for commentators and politicians who do not know Tony to label him a ‘homophobe and a misogynist’ for the purposes of scoring cheap political points,” she said on Friday.
“As a woman who has always been part of his life and who came out to him as gay in my early 40s, I know incontrovertibly that Tony is neither of those things.”
A spokesperson for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “no decision” had yet been made on the trade appointment, which will be up to Downing Street.