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Australian election campaign: Gaffes, giggles and groans

By Hilary Whiteman, CNN
September 7, 2013 -- Updated 0234 GMT (1034 HKT)
Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott poses with a mango and one of his
Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott poses with a mango and one of his "not bad looking daughters." What will he say next?
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Five-week election campaign filled with colorful quotes, unfortunate gaffes
  • Potential leader Tony Abbott takes the prize for most prolific contributor
  • Classic quotes also come from the candidate described as having "sex appeal"
  • Others have quit after making poorly-received comments, others are lying low

(CNN) -- Forget policies. One thing guaranteed to get the electorate talking ahead of any vote is a steady stream of cringe-inducing moments, and on that front Australia's federal election campaign hasn't disappointed.

Tony Abbott, the man who looks set to become the country's next prime minister, won international headlines for all the wrong reasons with his misguided reference to suppositories.

But he's not the only one leaving voters squirming in their seats. Here are our top 10 moments of the Australian campaign trail, in no particular order.

1. Abbott: Vote for me because my daughters are hot

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Okay, he didn't actually say that but that's what Coalition leader Abbott implied when he and current Prime Minister Kevin Rudd appeared on Australia's version of reality hit "Big Brother." (Yes, Big Brother still airs there and presumably has enough of an audience to convince both politicians that it was worth a shot at the youth vote.)

While Rudd reduced more than one housemate to tears with talk of love and gay marriage, Abbott shot from the hip with a comment (presumably aimed at the nation's blokes given his views on gay marriage): "If you want to know who to vote for, I'm the guy with the not bad looking daughters."

As commentator Nick Galvin noted: "Adrift uneasily in the no man's land between daggy and plain weird, Abbott looked strangely like Robert Palmer from the era when the late British singer surrounded himself with Amazonian beauties, because . . . well . . . he could."

(For the uninitiated, "daggy" means uncool, unfashionable, etc.)

READ MORE: Could political brawler be next PM?

2. Getting hot and sweaty

They may not have been "Amazonian beauties," but when Abbott found himself surrounded by a high school netball team it seemed he couldn't help himself.

"A little body contact" never hurt anyone, he told them after the girls apologized for being sweaty and crushing his suit during a photo call, according to national broadcaster the ABC.

It followed some effusive but what many considered inappropriate praise for a Liberal candidate's "sex appeal."

The cack-handed "compliment" was aimed at Fiona Scott, who days later offered a comment of her own crowned by the country's immigration minister as "the silliest of the campaign." Read on.

Liberal candidate Fiona Scott. Tired of traffic.
Liberal candidate Fiona Scott. Tired of traffic.

3. Asylum seekers? Clogging up traffic

Anyone with half an eye on the Australian election will have noticed a lot of debate and angst about what to do about asylum seekers who arrive in the country's waters by boat.

When prompted to talk about the "hot topic" of asylum seekers, Scott said, "Yes it's a hot topic here because our traffic is overcrowded. How much fun is the M4 in peak hour? It's not fun, at all."

The M4 connects the inner-west with the outer suburbs of Sydney. Scott's comment prompted a stream of tweets, including one which asked whether jams were caused by "all those refugees towing their boats down the motorway." After the furor, Scott claimed her quotes had been taken out of context.

4. Things that make you go 'ummmm'

While we're on asylum seekers and Liberal candidates, Jaymes Diaz deserves a mention. When asked about the party's six-point plan to "stop the boats," the election candidate failed to name the other five.

In the days following, it seemed to become a sport for Australian journalists to track Diaz down and pitch the question to him again to see whether he'd managed to commit them to memory. However, he was nowhere to be found.

In a six-minute video attached to an article headlined "Where are Abbott's wallies?" reporter Lucy Carroll tried to find him. After two days of phone calls and attempted doorstops she only managed to locate his mother.

I don't oppose Islam as a country, but I do feel that their laws should not be welcome here in Australia.
Stephanie Banister, former candidate

5. Islam. A new one for the map

Diaz may be hard to find, but at least he's hanging in there for the vote, unlike Stephanie Banister who withdrew her candidacy after making a series of jaw-dropping comments, all within one interview.

"I don't oppose Islam as a country, but I do feel that their laws should not be welcome here in Australia," Banister told Seven News. She went on to confuse "haram" with the Quran and said Jews followed Jesus Christ.

A candidate for the fringe One Nation Party, 27-year-old Banister quit just 48 hours into her campaign. In a statement to the ABC, party leader Jim Savage said she'd withdrawn "following the disgraceful way she has been portrayed by recent media [and] ridicule over a minor gaffe."

6. See ya. Candidates shown the door.

While Banister quit of her own accord, the ruling Labor party made sure candidate Geoff Lake made it nowhere near the polling booths. He was dumped after admitting to verbally abusing a disabled female councilor in 2002.

"I was a young mayor and I got angry one night and I spoke to her in angry way, which I acknowledged then and I acknowledge now," Lake told local media.

Another nudged out of the race was North Queensland candidate Ken Robertson who called Abbott "racist" and "a very, very bigoted person." It came days after Rudd called for a "positive campaign."

Founder of the Palmer United Party, Clive Palmer.
Founder of the Palmer United Party, Clive Palmer.

7. 'Be careful of Rupert'

Allegations of racism weren't the only ones flying around.

Mining magnate Clive Palmer, perhaps better known outside Australia for his ambitious plans to build a replica Titanic, shocked morning viewers by making some stunning accusations on live TV .

"Rupert Murdoch's wife Wendi Deng is a Chinese spy," Palmer said. "She's been spying on Rupert for years, giving money back to Chinese intelligence."

"Clive, have you lost the plot?" asked the visibly shocked presenter.

Palmer is standing for a Senate seat as leader of his own party, the Palmer United Party. Polls show the party could possibly win one seat.

Julian Assange as \
Julian Assange as "Farnsie."

8. 'You're the voice'

It must be hard to entertain oneself while hiding from authorities in a foreign embassy for months on end.

That's the only reason we can think why WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange thought it was a good idea to don a fake mullet and sing his own version of John Farnham's classic Aussie hit "You're the voice." (For those unfamiliar with the terminology, "mullet" refers to a type of hairstyle, not the fish).

Assange is attempting to win an Australian Senate seat for his WikiLeaks Party, despite the surprise resignation of his running mate Leslie Cannold -- who quit due to a lack of transparency and accountability, of all things.

It's not clear whether Assange will be able to take up his seat if he wins. It is clear that singing will NOT be a viable career option.

9. Slipper recycles

Another candidate relying on blasts from the past is former federal speaker Peter Slipper, who has defended his use of old campaign signs in his bid for re-election.

It's clear from the posters that they don't feature a recent image. They're black and white. Oh, and Slipper is now running as an independent candidate, so he's had to cut off any Liberal Party logos. Not obvious at all.

The former speaker could be forgiven for wanting to avoid any more cameras. He was hauled over the coals and through the courts after being accused of sexually harassing a male colleague.

A federal court judge eventually threw out the case last December, saying that he'd come to the conclusion the claims were made to cause Slipper "significant, public, reputational and political damage."

10. Will it end after the election? Probably not...

It seems appropriate to end this list with Abbott, as the likely next prime minister and the country's most prolific provider of head-slapping gaffes.

Abbott hasn't won yet, but if he does then writer Alan Stokes has imagined the contents of his election speech.

It starts with "My drear men and women of Australia. I stand here tonight, on this maleficent evening, as your prime minister, to spank you very much and say how bumbled I have been to receive your thrust."

To read the whole "screech," click here.

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