PM ‘tried to embarrass Abbott’

The Liberal Party has accused Prime Minister Julia Gillard of breaking security protocol by making public a scheduled visit to Afghanistan by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

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Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop defended Mr Abbott’s decision not to visit Australian troops in Oruzgan province as he travelled to the UK for the British Conservative Party’s annual conference.

Ms Bishop said the Liberal leader had already scheduled a trip to Afghanistan and blamed the prime minister for making public what was intended to be a secret visit.

“In the usual course of leaders’ visits to war zones they are meant to be secret for security reasons,” she told Fairfax radio on Wednesday.

“As Julia Gillard has now made her offer to Tony Abbott, which she knew he would decline because he was already scheduled to go Afghanistan, his proposed trip is now public and that’s an unfortunate outcome.”

At a press conference in Brussels, Ms Gillard said she invited Mr Abbott to join her on her trip to Afghanistan as a “sign of bipartisanship”.

She denied that Mr Abbott had a fixed date to go to the war-torn country.

But Ms Bishop rejected the prime minister’s claims that she had not known for a considerable time about the date of Mr Abbott’s trip to Afghanistan.

She said Mr Abbott’s planned trip to Afghanistan had already been raised with the defence department and the prime minister’s office.

“I believe her decision to issue an invitation to Tony Abbott and then make it public was an attempt to reflect poorly on him,” Ms Bishop said.

“If she was genuine she could have issued an invitation and kept it confidential but no, she made it public to embarrass him.”

Mr Abbott has apologised for originally saying he avoided travelling to Afghanistan out of fear of “jet lag”.

Ms Bishop said the Liberal leader has conceded a “poor choice of words” but said he was trying to avoid indicating that he had a trip scheduled.

“I expect Tony was going to great lengths to avoid indicating he had a trip scheduled and he was trying to keep it confidential as is required by defence and indeed by the government.”