Australia: New PM Tony Abbott takes just one week to prove his disdain for women Print E-mail

Scroll down for link to sign the petition which reads: "Prime Minister Tony Abbott: Appoint somebody qualified [Meaning "NOT yourself"] to be the Minister for Women"

 September 22 2013

Same old argument from same old 'men of merit' to keep status quo

By Bianca Hall, Immigration correspondent

A cabinet with one woman is just the start of a lack of balance.

  Liberal senator Sue Boyce. (Andrew Meares)

Paul Keating was only half-right when he described the Senate as ''unrepresentative swill''. He forgot the House of Representatives.

The chattering classes were transfixed this week by news that Prime Minister Tony Abbott's new cabinet would include but one woman among a sea of 18 suits and just six women in 42 ministry, outer ministry and parliamentary secretary positions.

This, when women comprise 51 per cent of the population.

Abbott proclaimed himself ''disappointed that there are not at least two women in the cabinet'', but added: ''There are some very good and talented women knocking on the door of the cabinet and there are lots of good and talented women knocking on the door of the ministry.''

They just can't get in.

Abbott's ''woman problem'' is now a structural deficiency of women in key cabinet positions that could take years to remedy.

But this is nothing new. Women are just the latest group of Australians relegated to minority status in our parliaments.

Where are all the MHRs and senators from Asian, African and Middle Eastern backgrounds? From Aboriginal heritage? The out-and-proud gay and lesbian Australians?

There have been notable exceptions, among them former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard's ''captain's pick'' to propel the first Aboriginal woman, sporting great Nova Peris, into the Senate.

And Longman LNP MP Wyatt Roy pointed out the Coalition this year has drawn successful candidates from a broader range of backgrounds than the usual legal pedigree, including former journalist Sarah Henderson.

But the overwhelming majority of our parliamentarians are university-educated, middle-class white men.

While counting drags on for the 45th Parliament, let's look back at the previous one. Then, just 29 of 226 MHRs and senators were born overseas, most in England, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

According to the parliamentary library, about 13 per cent were either migrants from non-English-speaking backgrounds, or were the children of parents from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

In the broader community, 47 per cent of us were either born overseas or are second-generation migrants.

Women comprised 29 per cent of the Parliament.

The most common qualification in the Senate was a law degree (31 of 76 senators held one).

It's hardly representative of our community. So why can't a broader mix of people get a look in? And does it matter?

Maybe it doesn't. Maybe former Howard government minister Sharman Stone didn't have the merit of Peter Dutton or David Johnston, who have been included in Abbott's cabinet.

Maybe captain's picks that propel people into Parliament who might never survive or be bothered with the preselection processes of both our major parties are indeed a handout, not a hand-up, and a perverse form of discrimination.

Or maybe our country is, and our Parliament would be, richer for their voices being heard.

Can a Parliament filled mainly with men from mostly similar backgrounds really understand the struggles endured by - for example - single mothers being kicked off the parenting payment and onto the lower dole?

Can they empathise with the struggles of new migrants, battling to fit in to a bewildering new culture or, on their base salary of $195,130 a year, understand the plight of pensioners?

These days, non-political types are much more likely to be elected to the Senate than the House of Representatives. From the kangaroo poo-throwing would-be Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party senator Ricky Muir, to the ever-growing proliferation of Greens, proportional voting systems have given us more variety than Labor and the LNP's preselection processes - which also have an iron grip on the Senate - ever will.

Those who would argue for the status quo argue that merit decides who rises to the top. But it's clear that merit is a subjective force when it's bound by the strictures of the major party's systems.

Departing Liberal senator Sue Boyce gave a scathing assessment of the merit argument this week, writing on the ABC's The Drum: ''If I hear the phrase 'woman of merit' one more time I'll, I'll … do something drastic.

''When was the phrase 'men of merit' last used?'' she asked. ''Is every male MP a 'man of merit'?''

To Boyce, arguments about merit were ''a nonsense''.

'' 'Women of merit' is a term used by ultra-conservatives who want to maintain the status quo - it's a smokescreen for sexism.''

In the same vein, excusing away the absence of parliamentarians from Aboriginal, Asian, African and Middle Eastern backgrounds - in somewhere at least approaching the same numbers they represent in the community - is a smokescreen for maintaining a status quo that shames us all.

Is anyone prepared to say these Australians don't have the same merit, and the same right, to be there, as those who fill these halls?

Bianca Hall is The Sunday Age's political correspondent.
 London ~ Friday 20 September 2013

Tony Abbott as Australia's women's minister? Can't a minister for women be more like a woman

If one takes an unedifying trip back through Abbott’s pronouncements on women in the past, he makes for an unlikely candidate

By Alice Jones

Bridget, Frances and Louise Abbott must be very proud of their father. He has just been sworn in as the new Prime Minister of Australia, which is a pretty awesome thing to be. Even better, the three girls can take a bit of credit for his triumph at the ballot box. With their lovely long hair, slim ankles and bright smiles, these well turned-out little ladies – we can call them that, right? – pulled in a good few votes for Daddy. And, to be fair to him, Tony Abbott was never coy about their help. “If you want to know who to vote for, I’m the guy with the not bad-looking daughters,” he told the nation earlier this month.

Indeed, Bridget, Frances and Louise – a trainee radiologist, a student and a diplomat, respectively – became one of Abbott’s favourite electoral weapons. When he told a school netball team that “a bit of full body contact never hurt anyone”, they stood by his side and laughed, only a bit awkwardly. And when he endorsed his fellow MP Fiona Scott for having “a bit of sex appeal”, they rolled their eyes and indulgently described it as “a daggy dad moment”. Most of us daughters are lucky that our dad’s daggy moments are confined to dancefloors at weddings and Christmas lunches, I suppose, but then most of us do not have dads who are world leaders.

Now, as the confetti is swept up and their fresh, white victory dresses are hung up, the Abbott gals have yet another reason to be proud of their father. He has appointed himself women’s minister. On paper, this is a progressive move. A male Prime Minister who is so keen to put women’s issues at the heart of his government that he is personally taking charge of them – what could be more modern and feminist than that?

Sure, there are some alarm bells clanging in the background. The fact that Abbott appointed just one woman – Julie Bishop – to his 19-strong cabinet this week is an appalling state of affairs. Australia now has less female representation at cabinet level than Afghanistan. Abbott has said that he is “disappointed” that there aren’t more women in power. “Nevertheless there are some very good and talented women knocking on the door of the cabinet,” he added, keeping his foot firmly wedged against that door and checking the woman-proof locks on it twice.

Indeed, if one takes an unedifying trip back through Abbott’s pronouncements on women in the past, he makes for an unlikely minister. As appointments go, it’s as apt as Nick Griffin being made Minister for Immigration, say, or Nigel Farage Minister for Europe. This is a man who once framed a debate about rising electricity prices in terms of the “housewives of Australia” doing the ironing. A man who has described abortion as “convenient” and an “easy way out” for women. A man who once said, and it deserves to be quoted in full: “It would be folly to expect that women would ever approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, their abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons.”

Not for nothing did the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard denounce Abbott as the face of misogyny in modern Australia in a blistering speech last year. But then she would say that; she and Abbott never really got on. He notoriously ordered the unmarried PM to “make an honest woman of herself”, posed in front of placards describing her as a “man’s bitch” and a “witch” and refused to denounce a party fundraiser dinner which included the grossly demeaning dish, “Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Chicken Quail – Small Breasts, Huge Thighs & A Big Red Box” on its menu.

In June, before she too was marginalised, Gillard warned that a victory for Abbott would mean women’s voices would be stifled. She painted a picture of one man in a blue tie talking to another man in a blue tie about the budget, of a future in which “women once again [are] banished from the centre of Australia’s political life”.

Now her prediction has come to pass. It may turn out to be a very good thing to have a prime minister handling women’s issues himself, but one man’s voice, however powerful, is no substitution for many women’s voices. And when that man has a tendency towards chauvinist outbursts and saying things like “no one is the suppository of all wisdom”, the nation’s females could be forgiven for wishing that they had no spokesperson at all. Abbott has got rid of the science portfolio after all, so why not the women’s? (Because women are half of the population, half of the electorate and deserve to be represented as such).

There is much that is alarming about Abbott’s new regime – his promise to abolish the carbon tax and stop the boatloads of asylum seekers, his belief that climate change is “absolute crap”, his pledges to cut public service jobs and the foreign aid budget by billions. How tedious that sexism should have to be added to an already long list.

How much better if female voters like Bridget, Louise and Frances Abbott could just assume that their voices will be heard. They have voices, by the way, recently speaking out in support of same-sex marriage. Perhaps now their father can repay them for all those embarrassing photo opportunities by listening to what they have to say. Otherwise, the future for Australia’s women looks bleak indeed

Petitioning The Hon. Tony Abbott

Prime Minister Tony Abbott: Appoint somebody qualified to be the Minister for Women

Petition by Matthew William Joyce, Australia, Filmmaker/ Magazine Editor/ Musician/ Cultural Humanist/ Hacktivist and member of the Pirate Party

Tony Abbott has appointed himself as the minister for women in Australia. This is clearly unacceptable as his views on Women Rights and equality will take us back 70-100 years.

From the Australian Independent Media Network on Tony Abbott's public comments on Women's Rights and Issues:

“I think 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.” Tony Abbott Four Corners 15/03/2010.

“While I think men and women are equal, they are also different and I think it’s inevitable and I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all that we always have, say, more women doing things like physiotherapy and an enormous number of women simply doing housework.” Tony Abbott Herald-Sun 06/08/2010.

“I won’t be rushing out to get my daughters vaccinated [for cervical cancer], maybe that’s because I’m a cruel, callow, callous, heartless bastard but, look, I won’t be.” November 9th, 2006

“I would say to my daughters if they were to ask me this question . . . [their virginity] is the greatest gift that you can give someone, the ultimate gift of giving and don’t give it to someone lightly, that’s what I would say.” January 27th “The problem with the Australian practice of abortion is that an objectively grave matter has been reduced to a question of the mother’s convenience.” 2010

It has been revealed that after having being defeated by Barbara Ramjan for the SRC presidency, Tony Abbott approached Barbara Ramjan, and after moving to within an inch of her nose, punched the wall on both sides of her head. 09/09/2012

‘I think there does need to be give and take on both sides, and this idea that sex is kind of a woman’s right to absolutely withhold, just as the idea that sex is a man’s right to demand I think they are both they both need to be moderated, so to speak’ cited 23/08/2012

Gaining momentum across everywhere but the mainstream media are allegations that Opposition leader Tony Abbott inappropriately touched Aboriginal author Ali Cobby Eckerman in an Adelaide cafe last March. First Nations Telegraph 20/06/2013.

Tony Abbott urges women to save their virginity for marriage and reveals mixed feelings about contraception in a new interview. The Australian 25/01/2010.

And who can forget his behaviour: standing in front of people as they hold signs calling Julia Gillard a bitch or a slut; rubbing shoulders with people after they’ve said on air that Julia Gillard should be dumped at sea; supporting members of his party who suggested Julia Gillard should be kicked to death. He also failed to reprimand those in his party who said Julia Gillard needed a bullet.

He can’t even address a female by name; it’s either ‘her’, ‘she’, ‘it’ or someone with sex appeal.

Please help us appoint someone more qualified!

We want to do our best to make Tony Abbott see reason. As he is the only one who is able to appoint someone else as the Minister for Women's Issues. It should be someone with extensive experience in this area and willing to fight for Women's Rights. There is only one other woman in his cabinet which is an appalling fallout from the election. As someone who is supposed to be running the country he should at least appoint someone who will give this complex range of issues its due attention, at the very least to appoint someone who will not go backwards.

The Petition reads:

To: The Hon. Tony Abbott, Prime Minister of Australia
We the citizens of Australia call on you to demonstrate your commitment to women's rights and issues by appointing a minister for women who has the sole responsibility for the women’s portfolio.
Appointing yourself as Minister for Women is unacceptable, you espouse your support for women but by failing to appoint a minister for women who is solely responsible for the women’s portfolio combined with the lack of women in your cabinet clearly demonstrates your belief that women take a secondary role in your version of modern Australia.
We call on you to appoint a woman in the role of Minister for Women and to include more women in cabinet.
[Your name]