SYDNEY — Australia’s gaffe-prone opposition leader Tony Abbott was engulfed in a new row Wednesday over an unguarded comment about a soldier’s death in Afghanistan.
Abbott hit out at media after TV station Channel Seven showed him rudely describing that things “happen” while discussing the death of Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney during an October visit to troops in the country.
A furious Abbott accused Channel Seven of taking his remarks out of context, and stared silently at journalist Mark Riley for some 20 seconds during an interview about the footage.
“I’ve given you the response you deserve,” he said finally, when pressed for an answer.
Abbott, leader of a conservative coalition, said he had discussed the matter with MacKinney’s widow and there were “no issues between us”. However, the soldier’s father took offence at the remark.
“It was going to offend anybody, any parent, a comment like that. I’m not happy regarding the comment,” Ian MacKinney told public broadcaster ABC.
Abbott, who came within just one vote of becoming prime minister after August elections returned a hung parliament, has a long history of verbal missteps.
Last year Abbott, dubbed the “Mad Monk” after once training to become a priest, stunned voters by admitting his unscripted remarks were not to be trusted, and he is known for calling climate change science “absolute crap”.
Abbott also used a swear word in 2007 to describe the “grin” of Julia Gillard, now the country’s prime minister.
MacKinney, 28, died in August, during a spate of deaths among Australian soldiers in Afghanistan. Australia has lost 22 troops in the conflict.