Treasurer Wayne Swan has laid the blame for comments comparing Prime Minister Julia Gillard to an “old cow” at the feet of Sydney’s shock-jocks and opposition leader Tony Abbott.

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Cattle company chief executive David Farley reportedly made the comments during a speech in Adelaide on Thursday.

Mr Farley was referring to plans to build a new abattoir when he said: “It’s designed for non-productive old cows – Julia Gillard’s got to watch out.”

Mr Farley has said the comments were meant to be taken tongue-in-cheek but they have been slammed on social media and by federal politicians since they were picked up by media nationally.

“There is no place in Australian society for this sort of personal abuse,” Mr Swan told reporters at the Tasmanian Labor state conference in Hobart.

“Unfortunately it’s crept in because people like Mr Abbott and the shock-jocks, particularly on Sydney radio, have descended to new lows in terms of the public conversation.

“It’s become frequent, we see it particularly on Sydney radio and we’ve seen it in the behaviour of some people in the federal coalition and there is no place for it in our public life or indeed in society.”

Mr Farley’s comments recall Sydney radio host Alan Jones’ infamous declaration that Ms Gillard should be thrown to sea in a “chaff bag”.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said in Sydney on Saturday Australians who thought they had permission to make “sexist and silly” remarks about the leader of the country should think again.

She said voters and public figures were free to criticise government policy but political leaders should not be subject to personal attacks.

“There’s no need to make these sort of sexist and silly remarks,” Ms Roxon told reporters.

“I am concerned that people think that there is permission to make these sorts of comments about the prime minister … in the footy parlance, play the ball, not the man.”

Federal Minister for Women Julie Collins said the comments were unacceptable.

“They amount to destructive prejudices long past their use-by date in our modern, diverse society,” she said in a statement on Friday.

Mr Farley’s comments were reportedly met with laughter.

Ms Collins said those who laughed along with Mr Farley’s jibe should take a “long, hard look at themselves.”

“Australians expect more of their corporate leaders,” she said.