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  • Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. (Reuters)

    Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. (Reuters) | Photo: Reuters

Published 11 September 2015

Australia's prime minister and one of his cabinet members have been caught on a hot mic joking about pacific nations being swallowed by rising sea levels.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was hit by yet another gaffe Friday, after he was caught chuckling at a joke about Pacific island nations being devastated by climate change.

The incident took place shortly before a government meeting on refugees. The meeting appeared to be running behind schedule, prompting Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to comment the meeting was running on “Cape York time.”

"We had a bit of that up in Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea)," Abbott responded.

Dutton then quipped, “Time doesn't mean anything when you're about to have water lapping at your door.”

Abbott started laughing at the comment, until Social Services Minister Scott Morrison quietly told him a microphone was positioned overhead. Abbott immediately stopped laughing.

The live microphone was attached to a boom pole and positioned directly above the trio. The recording quickly drew criticism on social media and in local press, with the Sydney Morning Herald describing it as an “embarrassing” end to the week for the government.

Footage of the exchange filmed by public broadcaster ABC garnered over 100,000 views on Youtube in a matter of hours.

Dutton has refused to comment on the discussion, telling the ABC it was a “private conversation with the prime minister.”

Opposition leader Bill Shorten has slammed Dutton's remark as a “bad joke.”

“But the fact that the Prime Minister is laughing along with it reminds me of what Barack Obama said: any leader who doesn't take climate change seriously is not fit to lead,” Shorten said.

Abbott is no stranger to political gaffes.

The prime minister was widely ridiculed earlier this year when he announced he wanted to knight Prince Philip. In 2010, he faced a public backlash after arguing his environment strategy would benefit women by making ironing cheaper.

“What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing … their own power bills when they switch the iron on are going to go up,” he said.

The same year, he said he felt “threatened” by homosexuality, and described climate change as “crap.”

In May 2014, he was embroiled in another scandal dubbed “winkgate.” The scandal centered around Abbott winking during a radio interview with a phone sex worker. As far back as 1970, as a university student Abbott wrote that “it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons.”

The latest gaffe wasn't even the first of the week. During a television interview Wednesday, Abbott argued he had helped the Australian economy by stopping refugee boats from reaching the country’s shores.

Abbott's hardline refugee policy is expected to cost the Australian taxpayer well over US$5.88 billion over four years.

Under Abbott, the budget deficit he once vowed to trim has instead swelled from US$21 billion to US$34 billion. Private sector expenditure has dropped 15 percent, while workers have seen average annual increases in their weekly wages sink to 1.2 percent – the lowest level in decades. The value of the Australian dollar has tumbled, unemployment has risen from 5.8 to its highest level in over a decade, 6.3 percent. Economic growth has also slumped, falling from 2.5 percent to 2 percent.

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