Prime Minister Julia Gillard has batted away renewed questions about her leadership by declaring she was a ''strong, feisty woman'' who would defeat a ''policy weak'' Tony Abbott.
During a torrid session of question time, during which numerous Coalition MPs were ejected, the opposition complained Ms Gillard was trying to reignite a gender-based attack and accused her of saying that ''misogynist Tony is back''.
Mr Abbott had asked Ms Gillard whether she would regard a failure to pass media reform laws in the lower house this week as a lack of confidence in her government. Ms Gillard told Mr Abbott she would win the September 14 election
''Let me say very clearly to the Leader of the Opposition - it will be a contest, counter intuitive to those believing in gender stereotypes, but a contest between a strong, feisty woman and a policy-weak man and I'll win it.''
Leader of opposition business Christopher Pyne complained that Ms Gillard went far beyond answering the question. ''And then she, as an aside, said for some unknown reason, misogynist Tony is back,'' he said.
''I would ask her to withdraw it because it is a slur on the Leader of the Opposition and a desperate comment from a desperate prime minister.''
Speaker Anna Burke ordered Mr Pyne to leave the chamber during the fiery moment. Ms Burke said she did not hear the interjection but asked Ms Gillard to withdraw it.
''If the Leader of the Opposition is upset in any way I will withdraw,'' she said.
Ms Gillard was then forced to withdraw the comment unreservedly.
The reference to ''misogynist Tony'' harks back to Ms Gillard's so-called misogyny speech to Parliament last year in which she accused Mr Abbott of displaying sexist attitudes. The video of her speech was widely shared on social media but the opposition complained it was unfair and later sought to soften Mr Abbott's image.
Two Labor ministers were forced publicly declare they continued to back Ms Gillard as leader of the party after Fairfax Media reported on Tuesday that they were reconsidering their support for the Prime Minister.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr has denied switching his support to former leader Kevin Rudd or even discussing the government's political fortunes with Labor colleagues.
Speaking from Washington, where he is meeting with newly appointed US Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator Carr told ABC news on Tuesday morning that he was ''loyal to Julia Gillard''.
A second minister, South Australian Mark Butler, who was reported as telling colleagues that he was reconsidering his support for the PM, tweeted: ''Still a proud member of Julia Gillard's team, contrary to latest media frenzy.''
Several Labor MPs have raised concerns with the government's media reforms, including Rudd support Joel Fitzgibbon who told caucus that he was concerned about the way the government had sold the proposed changes to the public.
Labor frontbencher Simon Crean agreed that the process could have been handed better but the important issues was the content.
''If you ask the members of the caucus whether they support rules that encourage greater media diversity, not only would all of them say yes, I think the vast majority of Australian people would say yes,'' he told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.
During question time, Ms Gillard hit back at opposition attacks over the media reform by pointing to UK Prime Minister David Cameron's compromise press regulation deal agreed to this week.
Ms Gillard said the UK proposals ''go far far further than anything'' in the Gillard government's reform package.
In a reference to censorship criticisms levelled by the opposition, Ms Gillard said the Coalition should make the same complaints about the UK Conservative Party's reforms or face accusations of hypocrisy.
Asked about Mr Crean's claim the media reform process could have been handled better, Ms Gillard said big reforms were ''never easy''.
''It's not surprising to me that when we are talking about something as contested as media reform that we have seen a fast and furious debate,'' she said.
Ms Gillard asked whether the opposition would criticise the process followed by the Conservatives in the UK, which culminated in a deal being struck at 2.30am on Monday.
The story 'Feisty woman' will win over 'policy weak' Abbott: PM first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.