Liz Truss says questions over Tony Abbott’s women and LGBT record ‘irrelevant’ as former Australian PM lined up for UK trade job
Tony Abbott came under fire in Australia for his stance on same-sex marriage and comments on women. (PA)
Cabinet minister Liz Truss has said questions over former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott’s controversial comments on women and gay people are “irrelevant” to any job he will do for the UK on trade.
The International Trade Secretary said Mr Abbott, who is reportedly in line for a senior post on the UK’s Board of Trade, had done “excellent” work on the issue on the past.
But she refused to comment on the backlash from Labour over his potential appointment, and said “no final decisions have been made”.
Mr Abbott was a staunch opponent of same-sex marriage during a 2017 Australian campaign on the issue, condemning “moral bullying” from the “gay lobby”.
And he came under fire in 2012 after it emerged he had once suggested “men are by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command”.
Then-prime minister Julia Gillard in 2013 took aim at his record in what became known as the "Misogyny Speech".
It was reported by The Sun newspaper this week that the ex-leader of Australia’s Liberal Party is set to be appointed as joint president of the UK’s revamped Board of Trade, which aims is to drive UK exports and inward investment “to deliver economic growth and prosperity“.
Pressed on that report — and on Mr Abbott’s past comments — Ms Truss told ITV News Calendar on Thursday: “First of all, we are due to announce the Board of Trade and no final decisions have been made.
“But what I'd say about Tony Abbott is he's a former Prime Minister of Australia. Australia is a key ally of the United Kingdom, and he has done a very good job in areas like trade.”
Asked whether she would be comfortable working with someone who has been accused of sexism by former Australian leaders, Ms Truss — who also serves the minister for women and equalities — said: “He's a former Prime Minister of Australia he's done a excellent job on trade.
“And of course we're working very closely with the Australians on striking a new trade deal.
Pressed again, the Cabinet minister said: “I'm not going to spend my time talking about comments other people have made in the past.
“I’m a minister for women and equalities in Britain, and my focus is making sure that women, men, LGBT people, people of all ethnicities, have equal opportunities in this country.”
And Ms Truss added: “This is an irrelevant question because we have not yet announced the Board of Trade.”
But Labour’s Emily Thornberry said Mr Abbott was “a man addicted to picking fights”, describing him as “confrontational, aggressive, thin-skinned and nasty”.
“No wonder he holds up Donald Trump and Nigel Farage as role models,” the Shadow International Trade Secretary said in a piece for the i newspaper.
Asking whether Mr Abbott was “the kind of person we want representing our country overseas”, the Labour frontbencher branded the ex-PM a man “with such a long track record of sexist, sleazy and misogynist behaviour, it can only come from deeply ingrained attitudes about women’s place in society”.
And she added: “We know the Government has a big problem on trade. They don’t have the deals in place to fill the void that is looming at the end of the Brexit transition period. They’re still scrambling just to extend beyond December the deals we’ve already got with countries like Canada and Japan.
“But if Tony Abbott is the best answer Boris Johnson can come up with to that problem, we’re in even more trouble than we think.”