Tony Abbott has been tripping over his tongue. Off-the-cuff malapropisms and gaffes on a candidate's sex appeal and gay marriage have made headlines at home and abroad.
Yesterday US singer Katy Perry lambasted the Opposition Leader for his views on same-sex marriage when he suggested using one of her songs as his campaign anthem. "I love you as a human being but I can't give you my vote," Perry told Abbott on 2DayFM, after being informed he opposed same-sex marriage.
Abbott was one of several people given the chance to ask the star a question and he asked when she would again tour Australia. "Oh come on, that's not a political question, let's talk about gay marriage," she retorted. "Now you're interviewing me, Katy," a surprised Abbott replied. Perry urged voters to speak out against Abbott's stance on gay marriage.
Detractors have been delving into the archives to revive similar, notorious quotes on homosexuality, abortion and women's roles to reveal what they say is the real Abbott.
The question is whether all this matters in the race to the September 7 election. Labor thinks so. Despite promising a positive campaign, the Government is now focusing solidly on Abbott the man, launching advertisements warning of a mad slasher about to hew into middle Australia. On the way is more zeroing-in on the recent gaffes in a bid to portray him as a man rooted in yesterday's world.
The past few days have provided Labor with fertile ground. Abbott:
Became a global laughing stock for using "suppository" - a medication inserted into body orifices - rather than "repository", a storage facility.
Created a media storm by describing Liberal candidate Fiona Scott as "young, feisty ... [with] sex appeal".
Followed with his inclusion of same-sex marriage as a "fashion of the moment", contrasting with Kevin Rudd's pledge to push the issue through Parliament if he wins another term.
Moved to kiss baby Angelique Whittaker on a campaign stop, missed as the 15-month-old turned away, and instead kissed mother Evie on the back of the head.
He laughed off the sex appeal quip as a "daggy dad moment". Rudd thundered that sexism, racism and homo-phobia had no place in modern Australia.
Abbott's past quotes have been resurrected to haunt his campaign. He has attacked abortion as "a question of the mother's convenience", said it would be "folly" to expect women to "dominate or even approach equal representation" in a large number of areas, advised housewives to consider energy costs as they did the ironing, and admitted he felt threatened by homosexuality as it "challenges orthodox notions of the right order of things".
The danger for Abbott is the potential for his campaign to be sidetracked on to a debate over his moral and social views, real or perceived. Female voters already prefer Labor and social issues such as gay marriage figure prominently in the voting priorities of young Australians. Recent polling showed voters saw Abbott's key weakness as he was not yet "prime minister material". Cracks in his tightly focused and disciplined campaign persona could reinforce that view.
More likely voters will see gaffes as media clutter. Their real concerns are the economy, jobs, household finances, health and education. Polls show that while still unpopular, Abbott is eroding Rudd's lead as preferred prime minister. Yesterday a Morgan poll, taken while Abbott's remarks were making headlines, said Abbott was only three points behind.
Fairfax chief political correspondent Mark Kenny pointed to another indicator: responses to a Nielsen poll asking respondents whom they expected to win the election, as distinct from whom they would vote for. Abbott had a huge 57-31 per cent lead - and respondents have correctly picked the winner in each of the elections of the past 15years.
Leaders pitch election promises at struggling areas
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says a re-elected Labor Government will set up a special economic zone in the Northern Territory where business will pay less tax.
The plan was immediately described as "catch-up politics" by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who in June announced that a Coalition government would produce a white paper on northern Australia.
Under Rudd's plan, NT-based companies would enjoy a lower corporate tax rate, simplified investment rules and streamlined regulation. Under Labor's plan the special zone would begin from 2014 and be fully operational by 2018.
Meanwhile, Abbott is offering Tasmanian voters a plan to boost the state's economy by building infrastructure and transport links. The Liberals are targeting two Labor-held seats in Tasmania, which has the highest jobless rate in Australia at 8.2 per cent, and little economic growth.
Abbott announced the second phase of a plan to lift Tasmania out of its "dire" economic circumstances with A$438 million ($498 million) to upgrade Hobart International Airport and the Midland Highway.