‘No-one respects women more than me’

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Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has rubbished claims he’s insensitive to women after lobbing what the Greens claim is an “inappropriate” sexual phrase at the prime minister.

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On Tuesday when he was asked whether he would take up Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s offer of another election debate, Mr Abbott ridiculed the invitation, before saying: “Are you suggesting to me that when it comes from Julia, ‘no’ doesn’t mean ‘no’.”

“When she said ‘no’, I thought she meant ‘no’ … I believed her,” Mr Abbott said.

“You can’t change the rules just because you are in trouble.”

The “no means no” phrase has become notorious, being referenced in several high-profile court cases, especially when it comes to a women’s right to not have sex.

On Monday night, Ms Gillard changed her mind about further election debates, publicly challenging Mr Abbott to a second debate on the economy.

Mr Abbott moved to clarify the “no means no” gaffe during a Fairfax radio interview in Brisbane.

He described Ms Gillard’s debate offer as a “cynical ploy” “designed to take away oxygen” from the coalition’s campaign launch in Brisbane on Sunday.

“I made the point you just can’t be confident what she’s on about,” he said.

“Julia Gillard had the chance to agree to three debates, I gave her a second chance to agree to more debates.

“She said ‘no’ repeatedly on at least seven occasions… the fact of the matter is based on her commitment to one debate only … I’ve organised my campaign.

“I don’t see why I should disorganise my campaign because her campaign is in a mess.”

Asked if he was scared of a further debate Mr Abbott said: “The last thing I am, is scared of a debate”.

“I am not going to put my campaign at a disadvantage because Julia Gillard’s campaign has been taken over by the faceless men and it’s a mess,” he said.

“The fact is you just can’t take this prime minister seriously.”

He said misogynist claims levelled at him were unfair and a sign of desperation.

“The Labor Party spin merchants are running around saying this is terrible, this shows Abbott is insensitive to women,” he said.

“I’m not going to cop this kind of vicious smear … I’m the father of three daughters.

“No-one respects women more than I do.”

Earlier on Tuesday Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young told reporters in Brisbane she thought Mr Abbott’s comment was

“inappropriate”.