The trade secretary has refused to say whether Tony Abbott, the former prime minister of Australia labelled a misogynist, homophobe, and climate-change denier by the Australian press and leaders, is the right person to lead Britain’s Board of Trade after Brexit.
Truss, who is also the minister for women and equalities, remained tight-lipped over speculation Tony Abbott, a former Conservative prime minister of Australia, would be appointed Britain’s first post-Brexit trade envoy.
Abbott, who led Australia from 2013 until his ousting by his own party in 2015, has been branded a homophobe and climate-change denier by the Australian press and its leaders. Abbott was also at the receiving end of a speech by then-prime minister Julia Gillard on misogyny.
She told Abbott, the opposition leader at the time, that he was the face of sexism in modern day Australia.
‘If he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia,’ Gillard said in a heated debate in the Australian parliament, ‘he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror.’
Asked if it was right that someone widely viewed as sexist, homophobic, and a climate-change denier should represent Britain around the world during a visit to Yorkshire, Truss deflected, saying that Abbott had not yet been appointed but that he was being considered for his ‘very good job in areas like trade’ as prime minister.
But when she was asked if, as the minister for women and equalities, she felt comfortable working with someone labelled misogynistic by former Australian leaders, Truss refused to answer.
She said: ‘As a former prime minister of Australia, he’s done an excellent job on trade and of course, we’re working very closely with the Australians on striking a new trade deal.’
The minister then accused ITV’s Harry Horton of making up a comment Abbott made in public that men were more adapted to exercise authority than women.
‘It’s not me who said that, it’s the former leaders of Australia who said that as well,’ Horton shot back.
Truss, visibly flustered, claimed it was not ‘remotely relevant’ to remark on the comments because Abbott was not yet the head of the Board of Trade.
Horton interrupted: ‘But this is someone who is going to be representing Britain around the world making trade deals on behalf of people here in Yorkshire and he is someone, whose reputation around the world, is as a sexist, as someone who has made homophobic remarks, and as someone who denies climate change.’
Truss deflected the question again, calling it ‘not relevant’ because a decision on the head of the Board of Trade had not been made.
Labour has called the prospect of Abbott being appointment ‘downright humiliating’ while a former Australian prime minister described it as a ‘joke’.
Ex-Labour prime minister Kevin Rudd tweeted: ‘Is the UK joking? They are meant to be hosting the #COP26 Climate Conference next year. This is the man that called climate change ‘absolute crap’, likened climate action to ‘killing goats to appease volcano gods’ and repealed Australia’s carbon price.’