Liberal senator calls out sexist PM

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is a subtle sexist and the Coalition should be ''behaving more humanely'' towards asylum seekers, retiring Liberal senator Sue Boyce has said in an extraordinary exit interview.

Reflecting on her career in Parliament that finishes at the end of this month, Senator Boyce said she thought former prime minister Julia Gillard's famous misogyny speech was ''powerful'' and, for Ms Gillard's purposes, ''a brilliant speech''.

But she thought Ms Gillard's use of the word ''misogynist'' had not been an accurate description of Mr Abbott.

''I think it would have been more accurate if she had called him a sexist,'' she said. ''But singling him out as a sexist was not reasonable, either.''

Instead she agreed Mr Abbott was one of many sexists in Parliament, adding: ''Most of them are quite subtle about it, they don't realise they are being sexist.''

Senator Boyce did not offer any examples of Mr Abbott's alleged sexism and said she had found him more willing to listen to the views of women than many of her other male colleagues.

She also commended his paid parental leave scheme, and said some of the older male National MPs who opposed it ''still yearn for the life when … proper mothers stayed home and looked after the children and proper fathers had their slippers handed to them''.

Senator Boyce, who describes herself as a feminist and among a dwindling number of moderates in the Coalition, has been out of favour with senior people in the Coalition for her left-leaning social views. She said she hoped her party would drift back to the centre.

In her maiden speech seven years ago, Senator Boyce, now 63, said she was determined to push for more female representation in Parliament. On that objective she said she had ''failed'', especially given there was only one woman - Foreign Minister Julie Bishop - and 18 men in Mr Abbott's cabinet.

Senator Boyce was proudest of her party's support for the National Disability Insurance Scheme but was concerned the Coalition was swinging too far to the right, particularly on issues such as asylum seekers, action against climate change and same-sex marriage.

''I think the whole asylum seeker issue is fraught with dog whistling,'' she said, adding she did not appreciate the language used by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. ''I mean, for example, I do not use the term 'illegal maritime arrivals'.''

Senator Boyce said regarding asylum seekers as genuine refugees would change the debate.

''I am not sure how you would go about having general public acceptance for the policies that we have if the people who were coming were seen as genuine refugees,'' she said.

And when asked whether humanising asylum seekers would undermine the Coalition's policies, Senator Boyce replied: ''Yes.''

However, she also acknowledged the success of the Coalition's policies that had resulted in no boat arrivals and no deaths at sea in the past six months with no boat arrivals and no deaths at sea. An estimated 1000 asylum seekers had drowned en route to Australia under the previous Labor government's policies.

''Scott [Morrison] is an extremely Christian person,'' Senator Boyce said. ''And, no, I don't understand it, but he very much believes that what he is doing is the right thing and will produce a good and humane result in the end.

''I mean, what Scott said is dead right.

''There aren't people dying [at sea] any more and we honestly don't know how many there were, and we never will.''

Neither Mr Abbott nor Mr Morrison responded to Senator Boyce's comments.

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