PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 March, 2007, 12:00am

Sydney has been getting its knickers in a twist about some distinctly below-the-belt political tactics.

The leader of the opposition Liberal Party in New South Wales, Peter Debnam, has been campaigning hard ahead of the state election on March 24.

The former navy officer is standing largely on a law and order ticket. He has pledged to order police to round up hundreds of 'Middle Eastern thugs' who he accuses of running amok after the Cronulla race riots of Christmas 2005.

He has also announced he is in favour of lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 10, and that he would give juries the power to set minimum jail sentences for criminals.

All of this has caused great controversy, but what has really got Mr Debnam noticed - here and overseas - is his penchant for arranging photo opportunities wearing nothing but his swimming trunks.

'Speedo Pete', as he has been dubbed, has caused quite a stir, striding out of the surf, jogging along the beach and climbing into a kayak in the skimpy gear.

The aim is to portray him as a fit, outdoorsy type who is more than capable of wrestling power from the incumbent Labor government and turning around the woeful state of public transport, health, education and water management.

But Mr Debnam has found himself roundly lampooned, with the government accusing him of spending more time grandstanding in his bathing suit than meeting voters.

His election campaign had so far consisted of 'at least seven photo shoots in Speedos, without a shirt, or in other states of undress', grumbled deputy premier John Watkins.

'The member for Vaucluse barely ventured outside his harbourside comfort zone,' Mr Watkins added. 'But when he did, it was for staged stunts in his Speedos. That's not listening to the community, it's offending common decency.'

The Times of London has been slightly kinder to Mr Debnam, even going so far as to compare him to Daniel Craig, who emerges from the surf taut and toned as James Bond in the latest 007 movie, Casino Royale.

'Debnam has a torso like Daniel Craig's, even if he has a face like [unorthodox-looking British MP] Lembit Opik's, and he has been putting it to work for the cameras,' The Times told its readers.

But the women of Sydney - with the possible exception of the blue rinse brigade out in the 'burbs' - are less impressed.

'It's ridiculous to compare Debnam to James Bond,' said Tracy Spinks, 27, from Darlinghurst, turning up her nose at a photograph of the opposition leader in his skimpy briefs. 'There's no comparison. Daniel Craig is gorgeous; Peter Debnam's a geek.'

Mr Debnam is not the only politician to hit the hustings in the great Aussie cossie. His counterpart in Victoria, opposition Liberal leader Ted Baillieu, emerged dripping from the waves during an election campaign last year to launch a coastal management policy.

Up in Queensland, they are jokingly anticipating a mini tourist boom as beachgoers in Victoria and NSW flee the sight of barely-clad politicians.

'With blokes like this parading around southern beaches in lycra, it seems only natural that normal people will run a million miles and come to Queensland for their holidays,' said Peter Lawlor, an MP from the Gold Coast.

Back in Sydney, the government says it has no intention of going head-to-head with Mr Debnam. Asked if he might don a pair of tight togs himself, premier Morris Iemma said: 'Heaven forbid, no. I actually want to win the election, not lose it.'