There are many things to celebrate on Australia Day, but perhaps the most important is that it marks the end of the silly season.

It is the time politicians and the media dust themselves off and start on the serious business of the year. Or at least they would have if Tony Abbott had not told the Women’s Weekly that he would advise his daughters to sit on it until they were married.

Actually if he had put it as straightforwardly as that there probably wouldn’t have been much of a fuss. Some might have derided him as a bit old fashioned (or, as his 18-year-old daughter, Frances, put it, “a lame, gay, churchy loser”) but a lot of traditional parents might have shrugged in mute agreement.

However, Abbott being Abbott, he had to take it further. After all, the Weekly was doing an extensive piece on his favourite subject —  himself — and indeed on his favourite aspects of it — ethics and beliefs, creed and credo. So Abbott felt constrained to add that virginity was a gift from God to a woman, and the most precious gift she could give to a man.

By way of later explanation he insisted that he wasn’t preaching — this was simply the advice that he would give to his own three daughters, although given that two of them had already reached adulthood it could still be seen as a touch patronising. But no one really believed him. The worst fears of the moderates, inside and outside the Liberal Party, were confirmed: Captain Catholic was back in charge. The Mad Monk just couldn’t help himself; he was incapable of drawing the line between public policy and private morals. And in Australia, this was always going to be a bummer.

Actually, Abbott received more support than he probably expected; talk-back radio ended up slightly in his favour, thanks to a blitz by women of a certain age (and possibly also a certain religion). And the most severe critics tended to be the usual suspects: feminists such as Catherine Lumby and Eva Cox, who were generally seen as political fringe-dwellers at best.

Kevin Rudd sensibly laid low and said nothing, and his deputy, Julia Gillard, restrained herself to the terse observation that Australian women cold make their own choices and did not want to be lectured by Abbott. Even this was too much for the Liberals’ normally sensible legal affairs spokesmen, George Brandis, who said Gillard had no right to talk about families because she didn’t have one herself. The quick response was that Gillard was not talking about families but about Abbott, and that Brandis would presumably also disqualify the Pope and all celibate clergy from the debate; indeed, perhaps he should disqualify himself from discussing women and children since he did not have a womb.

But the real argument centred around Abbott’s hypocrisy, which he at least acknowledged; after all he could hardly deny it. Rather sheepishly he admitted that when his daughters said to him: “But daddy, you did all those things yourself,” he had replied: “Well, yes, I did.” And indeed he had, and more.

It is on the record that while studying in the seminary to become a priest, his lust was so overwhelming that he was forced to appoint a personal celibacy adviser. This hapless individual was not up to the job; Abbott jumped the wall and quickly gained a name for successful lechery at Sydney University. There was an unfortunate experience when one girl with whom he was playing Vatican roulette becoming pregnant, and the child was adopted out; years later Abbott was reunited with the man whom he thought was his son but whom tests showed had another father altogether.

And there are many unedifying anecdotes about his time at St Johns, the Catholic residential college of Sydney University. They are best summed up by a fellow student who prefers to remain anonymous: “Tony would f-ck a hole in the wall if it had hair around it.” Thus, when he claimed that he was urging restraint upon young men as well as young women, there was a certain amount of coarse laughter.

But the more serious underlying complaint was about the idea that a woman’s virginity, and therefore presumably her entire s-x life, could be regarded as no more than a gift to a man. The issue died a natural death in the media, but the memory of that piece of unbridled misogyny will linger on.

This generation’s answer to Screaming Lord Sutch, Gibbering Lord Monckton, is so obviously loony that under normal circumstances Australians would treat his ravings with the contempt they deserve. But alas, these are not normal times; the anti-science brigade is not only on the march, but is making the running on the whole issue of climate change.

They have been helped along by some very powerful financial backers and some influential allies in the media, but what has given them a real lift is the revelation that some of the advocates for the case for global warming have been shown to be over-enthusiastic and in some cases just plain wrong. These flaws, according to the sceptics, show that the whole scientific edifice painstakingly erected over a decade is shonky; scientists are not to be trusted, and it is likely that the earth is flat after all, just as reasonable people have always suspected.

Of course, they show nothing of the kind; 99% of the science, supported by 99% of qualified scientists, remains intact. By any rational standard the case for man-made global warming is beyond argument, even if all the details cannot be quantified. But in political terms, we are just about back to square one.

It is to be hoped that people of good will from all parties can restore some sanity to the debate. The fact that Tony Abbott and even Barnaby Joyce have shunned numerous invitations to associate themselves and their parties with Monckton’s outrageous demagoguery is a hopeful start.