Health Secretary Matt Hancock has defended former Australian Prime Minister and prospective UK trade envoy Tony Abbott, despite accusations of homophobia and misogyny, by saying he is “an expert on trade”.
Appearing on Kay Burley’s breakfast show on Sky, Hancock said he didn’t “think it was true” that Abbott was homophobic or sexist.
When the host reiterated the allegations against Abbott, and asked whether it was okay that a potential government representative held these views, the Health Secretary responded by saying: “Well, he is also an expert on trade”.
While Abbott was Prime Minister of Australia, he fought against the introduction of same sex marriage and accused the “gay lobby” of “moral bullying”.
He was the subject of a now famous speech by Australian Labor leader Julia Gillard in 2012 after several misogynistic text messages he sent became public.
In a parliamentary select committee meeting on Tuesday, Abbott also suggested that elderly Covid patients should be made “as comfortable as possible while nature takes its course”.
He railed against coronavirus “hysteria” and said governments have “let fear of falling sick stop us from being fully alive”.
When challenged on whether his trade expertise somehow excuses Abbott’s previous behaviour, Hancock said: “What I’m saying is we need experts in different areas and somebody who is the former Prime Minister of Australia is obviously an enormous expert in the field of trade. It doesn’t change my views.”
He added: “I’m doing everything in my power to prevent a second wave and protect people from coronavirus. I think the best thing to say is I am totally focused on the coronavirus crisis and the future of the NHS and of social care. That is my area. I do know Mr Abbott is very good and very experienced in the area of trade.
“It is clearly a very important decision that the Prime Minister and the Trade Secretary are across, because we do want experts absolutely and people who have huge experience, especially when we’re putting together an area of policy and trade that frankly has been given over to the EU for the last 35 years. But I’ve been totally focused on the health area.”