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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

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

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.