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.

Photo: Getty
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Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

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