Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop has called on the prime minister to apologise to the women in Tony Abbott's life after Julia Gillard this week labelled the Liberal leader a misogynist and a sexist.
Ms Bishop on Thursday also defended Mr Abbott's 1998 suggestion that men might be better suited to exercise authority and the under-representation of women in positions of power might not be a bad thing.
She said Mr Abbott was simply posing questions.
Ms Gillard on Tuesday quoted Mr Abbott going back more than a decade claiming she was offended by his 'misogyny (and) sexism every day'.
'The prime minister should withdraw that statement and apologise to the many women in Tony Abbott's life who love him and whom he loves so dearly - his mother, his wife, his sisters, his daughters,' Ms Bishop told ABC television, adding it was 'utterly dishonest' to suggest Mr Abbott hated women.
Ms Bishop was subsequently asked to explain how the opposition leader's past comments weren't sexist.
Mr Abbott remarked in 1998: 'What if men are by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command.'
On Thursday night Ms Bishop said: 'He's asked a question - I don't see that as sexist.'
Fourteen years ago Mr Abbott also said when discussing the under-representation of women in positions of power: 'There is an assumption that this is a bad thing.'
'That's not a comment about the prime minister,' Ms Bishop said. 'He asked a question.'
When it came to the Liberal leader's 2004 statement that 'abortion is the easy way out' his deputy insisted: 'I believe those remarks have been taken out of context. I don't believe Tony Abbott's views on abortion are sexist.'
Ms Bishop said 'everybody's views evolve' over time and Mr Abbott had always treated her as an equal.
She said Ms Gillard and Attorney-General Nicola Roxon's outrage this week was a 'confected campaign' because they'd supported disgraced former Speaker Peter Slipper even after they knew about his offensive text messages.
'Not now, not ever, can the prime minister or Nicola Roxon or members of the Labor party claim they have the moral high ground when it comes to sexism.'