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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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.