Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has accused Prime Minister Julia Gillard of attempting to play politics on the issue of Afghanistan.
He says Ms Gillard was aware he was planning a visit to troops in the war-torn country before she asked him to join her on a brief visit over the weekend.
“The prime minister and her office have long known about this … the whole issue of Afghanistan should not be politicised by anyone,” he told ABC Radio.
“It’s wrong to make political mileage out of an issue as sensitive as this.
“I certainly don’t call into question the prime minister’s commitment to our troops in Afghanistan and I think she shouldn’t question mine.”
Mr Abbott has come under fire for turning down Ms Gillard’s invite because he did not want to be “jet lagged” for a conservative party conference in Britain.
Ms Gillard rejected suggestions she had used the situation surrounding her Afghanistan visit to score political points and flatly denied that Mr Abbott had organised his trip first.
“Your suggestion that he had a fixed date to go when I issued the invitation to him is not correct,” she said.
“Simply, not correct.”
Ms Gillard spoke just hours before flying out of Brussels at the end of the two-day Asia-Europe meeting (ASEM), her first strides on the global stage as PM.
News Limited newspapers said that Australian Defence Force sources had confirmed to them they had organised Mr Abbott’s trip before Ms Gillard had invited her opposite number to join her.
Ms Gillard said she had asked Mr Abbott to visit Afghanistan because of the importance of both parties supporting the war effort.
“I thought that was a good way of indicating bipartisanship,” she said.
“He made different arrangements, obviously the matter has become the subject of public controversy because of some statements that Mr Abbott made and at no time have I sought to add to that debate.”
Mr Abbott has apologised for what he called his “very poor choice of words”and any offence caused.
“The last thing that I would want to do is give offence to the families of our troops,” he said, noting that he’ll be visiting the troops soon.
“I think it’s important that I can form my own impression of what’s happening there … (and) to speak to the troops on my own trip.”