Gillard has no children, and in what has been interpreted by some as a thinly veiled reference to this, Abbott criticised the government’s plans to reduce the “baby bonus”, a payment made to Australian parents of newborns.

This handout will be cut back for second and subsequent children, on the reasoning that parents buy baby equipment such as cots and prams for the first child,which they reuse for their next children, reports The Guardian.

Abbott argued  “Often one child is still in the cot when the second one comes along, one child is still in the pram when the second one comes along.

“I think if the government was a bit more experienced in this area they wouldn’t come out with glib lines like that.”

His comments come after two weeks of intense political debate over sexism, after Gillard told him that if he wanted to see what a misogynist looked like he should look in a mirror, in a speech that went viral. The video has been watched more than 2m times on YouTube.

After senior Labour government figures including Gillard called on Abbott to explain his comments, he said: “If she [Gillard] wants to take offence of course I’m sorry about that. And if she would like me to say sorry, I’m sorry,” he said.

“Mate, I think a lot of people are very ready to read far too much into entirely innocent comments,” he continued. “This was as innocent as a comment can be.”