Five reasons Tony Abbott shouldn't be women's minister

Australia's new prime minister Tony Abbott has appointed himself women's minister. Here are five reasons he's not up to the job

Australia’s new prime minister, Tony Abbott, has appointed himself women’s minister (as well as the minister in charge of indigenous affairs, deregulation, national security and relations with state governments – he isn’t limiting himself.) Here are five reasons why he’s not up to the job.

 

1. He has appointed just 1 female minister in his 19-strong cabinet

When Abbott was once asked about the under-representation of women in Australian politics, he answered “there’s an assumption that this is a bad thing.” Of course he’s right, how ridiculous it is to assume that women could bring anything to political discussions in the country! And how glad Australian women should be that Abbott will now be speaking for them.

I should mention that as prime minister, he’s softened his position somewhat, saying “I am disappointed that there are not at least two women in the Cabinet.” Because with Abbott on your side, two women cabinet ministers would definitely be enough…right?

 

2. He has said that equality between the sexes is “folly” because women are wired differently to men

Abbott once said “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.”

When challenged on this in 2010 he said that he didn’t want to “repudiate what was said, but I don't want people to think that what I thought as a 21 year old is necessarily what I think as a 52 year old.” It’s hardly the strongest rejection of views that appear to have come straight from the 1870s rather than the 1970s. Presumably employment equality won’t be especially high on Abbott’s political agenda, but perhaps knitting-circles and cupcake bake-offs will be.

 

3. Whether he’s talking about his opponents or his supporters, he just can’t help being sexist

Whether by challenging former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard to make an “honest women of herself” or standing next to placards describing her as a "man’s bitch”, Abbott seems incapable of avoiding sexist attacks on his female opponents. Nor is he interested in clamping down on sexism within his own party. When a party fundraising dinner for Liberal candidate Mal Brough featured a menu including "Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail - Small Breasts, Huge Thighs and a Big Red Box”, he described the menu as “tacky” but refused to withdraw support from Brough.

His dealings with women in his own party have been equally dubious. Asked earlier this year to compare two female Liberal candidates he said they both had a “bit of sex appeal”, sounding more like a pervy uncle (or to use his words a “daggy dad”) than a party leader. He could have described their intelligence, their dedication to their party and their electorate, or their political insight, but he didn’t seem capable of judging them on anything other than their looks.

 

4. His views on sexism and abortion are deeply worrying

Abbott has said that he won’t change Australia’s abortion laws, but he’s previously held an anti-abortion stance, once describing abortion as the “easy way out.” His views on sex should be concerning to women too, as he's been quoted as saying that “the right of women to withhold sex ... needs to be moderated"

 

5. Australian women deserve better

The pay gap between men and women has increased 2 per cent in the past decade to 26 per cent. 38 per cent of employees in Australia have said they prefer employing men to women. 1 in 4 Australian children in single parent families (predominantly headed by women) live in poverty. Australian women deserve someone better than Abbott to reverse these injustices.

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott poses with his daughters and wife. Photo: Getty

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

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By refusing to stand down, Jeremy Corbyn has betrayed the British working classes

The most successful Labour politicians of the last decades brought to politics not only a burning desire to improve the lot of the working classes but also an understanding of how free market economies work.

Jeremy Corbyn has defended his refusal to resign the leadership of the Labour Party on the grounds that to do so would be betraying all his supporters in the country at large. But by staying on as leader of the party and hence dooming it to heavy defeat in the next general election he would be betraying the interests of the working classes this country. More years of Tory rule means more years of austerity, further cuts in public services, and perpetuation of the gross inequality of incomes. The former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Seema Malhotra, made the same point when she told Newsnight that “We have an unelectable leader, and if we lose elections then the price of our failure is paid by the working people of this country and their families who do not have a government to stand up for them.”

Of course, in different ways, many leading figures in the Labour movement, particularly in the trade unions, have betrayed the interests of the working classes for several decades. For example, in contrast with their union counterparts in the Scandinavian countries who pressurised governments to help move workers out of declining industries into expanding sectors of the economy, many British trade union leaders adopted the opposite policy. More generally, the trade unions have played a big part in the election of Labour party leaders, like Corbyn, who were unlikely to win a parliamentary election, thereby perpetuating the rule of Tory governments dedicated to promoting the interests of the richer sections of society.

And worse still, even in opposition Corbyn failed to protect the interests of the working classes. He did this by his abysmal failure to understand the significance of Tory economic policies. For example, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer had finished presenting the last budget, in which taxes were reduced for the rich at the expense of public services that benefit everybody, especially the poor, the best John McConnell could do – presumably in agreement with Corbyn – was to stand up and mock the Chancellor for having failed to fulfill his party’s old promise to balance the budget by this year! Obviously neither he nor Corbyn understood that had the government done so the effects on working class standards of living would have been even worse. Neither of them seems to have learnt that the object of fiscal policy is to balance the economy, not the budget.

Instead, they have gone along with Tory myth about the importance of not leaving future generations with the burden of debt. They have never asked “To whom would future generations owe this debt?” To their dead ancestors? To Martians? When Cameron and his accomplices banged on about how important it was to cut public expenditures because the average household in Britain owed about £3,000, they never pointed out that this meant that the average household in Britain was a creditor to the tune of about the same amount (after allowing for net overseas lending). Instead they went along with all this balanced budget nonsense. They did not understand that balancing the budget was just the excuse needed to justify the prime objective of the Tory Party, namely to reduce public expenditures in order to be able to reduce taxes on the rich. For Corbyn and his allies to go along with an overriding objective of balancing the budget is breathtaking economic illiteracy. And the working classes have paid the price.

One left-wing member of the panel on Question Time last week complained that the interests of the working classes were ignored by “the elite”. But it is members of the elite who have been most successful in promoting the interests of the working classes. The most successful pro-working class governments since the war have all been led mainly by politicians who would be castigated for being part of the elite, such as Clement Atlee, Harold Wilson, Tony Crosland, Barbara Castle, Richard Crossman, Roy Jenkins, Denis Healey, Tony Blair, and many others too numerous to list. They brought to politics not only a burning desire to improve the lot of the working classes (from which some of them, like me, had emerged) and reduce inequality in society but also an understanding of how free market economies work and how to deal with its deficiencies. This happens to be more effective than ignorant rhetoric that can only stroke the egos and satisfy the vanity of demagogues

People of stature like those I have singled out above seem to be much more rare in politics these days. But there is surely no need to go to other extreme and persist with leaders like Jeremy Corbyn, a certain election loser, however pure his motives and principled his ambitions.

Wilfred Beckerman is an Emeritus Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, and was, for several years in the 1970s, the economics correspondent for the New Statesman