There are probably not many questions that would surprise Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, except maybe when they come from a man impersonating ousted prime minister Kevin Rudd.
Mr Abbott was being quizzed by members of the public, live on television, in the western Sydney suburb of Casula on Monday night.
Mr Abbott canvassed a range of issues, from government spending, to climate change, gay marriage, the economy and asylum seekers. It was a composed performance, even when the impersonator asked how, now his lookalike had become decidedly unpopular, he could be more like Mr Abbott instead.
“I think it would be an impossible transformation,” the opposition leader fired back at the white-haired, bespectacled gentleman.
On the controversial issue of gay marriage, Mr Abbott said while he knew of lots of “terrific gay relationships”, he didn’t think marriage was the “right term” to characterise them.
He then attempted to back away from previous comments he had made on the subject, including that homosexuality is threatening.
“Our initial reactions to some of these things can be far from perfect and I’m sure that at different times I have reacted a bit poorly at first to things,” Mr Abbott said.
“But I hope I would always find it in my heart to treat people the way everyone should be treated – with dignity and respect.”
When it came to greenhouse gas emissions, he said he wasn’t convinced humans were their only cause.
“It plays a part, there’s no doubt about that, how big a part, we’ll let the scientists argue about that,” Mr Abbott said. “The scientists may well be right, carbon dioxide may well be the principal villain in harmful climate change. “What we should do therefore is take prudent and affordable precautions.”
The opposition leader also defended the coalition’s decision to accept political donations from big tobacco companies.
“Where do we draw the line? Do we refuse to take money from the Australian Hotels Association because alcohol does damage?” he said.
“Do we refuse to take money from the motor industry because cars can kill under the wrong circumstances?”
Mr Abbott said he was not going to knock back the money of legal businesses, before adding he was “happy” to take further steps to eradicate smoking in the community.
Finally, he suggested a judicial inquiry into Labor’s school buildings program would be launched if he won the federal election.
Mr Abbott has long been calling for a such an inquiry into the government’s $16.2 billion Building the Education Revolution scheme, which has been plagued by claims of waste and rorting.
A Labor-appointed taskforce earlier this month found the program had inflated building costs, and that schools got better value for money when they used standard capital works procedures.
Mr Abbott said a judicial inquiry would still be a good idea, despite the findings of the Orgill report.
“Yes, I think it would be appropriate to have a judicial inquiry should we win the election,” he said.