Where are the women Tony?
Labor has stepped up its attack on PM elect Tony Abbott's first Cabinet, even naming some of the women it believes deserved more prominence in the new government.PT2M0S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2twii 620 349 September 17, 2013
There are many jokes to be made about Tony Abbott's ''woman problem''. The incoming prime minister has been fielding them since long before he wrestled the Liberal leadership from Malcolm Turnbull in late 2009.
At the time, the collective analysis seemed to be that Abbott, a man with an outlook so conservative it could only have been spawned from the Catholicism he held so dear, would simply hasten the inevitable destruction of a party that had lost its way. The idea that a pugilistic chauvinist, well-known for his regressive views on women and a political voting history to show for it, could flourish in modern Australian politics was laughable.
Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop. Photo: Andrew Meares
While it still baffles me how a man with Abbott's views managed to lead the Coalition to a thumping election victory in a post-1950s era, the fact remains that he did. Despite committing a series of gender-based election gaffes, the electorate has evidently overlooked the clear discomfort he has with women. It comes as little surprise that he appears to have assumed a mandate (amid so many others) to continue in his disregard for them, announcing a cabinet on Monday that boasted only one woman.
When Kevin Rudd re-assumed the prime ministership in late June, his cabinet reshuffle resulted in the promotion of three more women to his ministry. His decision distinguished it as the most gender equitable cabinet in Australian political history so far, with a balance of 14 men to six women.
For a brief time, we had talented women such as Tanya Plibersek, who worked with bipartisan groups to quietly have RU486 (the abortion drug Abbott wielded veto power on as health minister to prevent its passage into Australia) listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme so that all women in Australia would have access to medical terminations; Penny Wong, an openly gay Asian-Australian whose sexual orientation and ethnicity were a welcome challenge to a political cast of characters unrepresentative of Australia's diversity; and Jenny Macklin, whose instrumental role in delivering a national disability insurance scheme will enable thousands of Australians living with disability to achieve a higher level of self-determination.
There were others, talented women elected into government because the ALP enforces necessary quotas to encourage the participation and elevation of women into Australian political life. There are equally talented women in the Liberal Party, whose contribution to government would be significant were there a concerted effort to dismantle the socially legislated structures in place designed to keep them out of leadership roles.
But the Liberals have no such policies to ensure their promotion, preferring instead to refer to the furphy of ''merit'' when it comes to their elected officials and their promotions. Indeed, Abbott himself said that he was ''disappointed'' there weren't more women in cabinet - as if he isn't directly responsible for their absence - but that they were right there ''knocking on the door''. We are left to believe that the Liberal Party has no women other than Julie Bishop who it considers good enough to be trusted with a cabinet portfolio.
As women, we're expected to shoulder the burden of blame. If we were only better, we wouldn't be denied avenues to power. We would have earned them.
Despite knowing that political appointments often have very little to do with merit and everything to do with reward, this is the message Abbott and the party faithful are content to send to the young women and men of Australia. That here, in 2013, women are not good enough to sit on the front line of government decisions and have a voice.
Clementine Ford is a freelance writer.