'First of all, Mr Abbott, the gender imbalance in your government is truly shocking.' Photo: Andrew Meares
I was travelling to London the day Prime Minister Tony Abbott spoke at the International Women's Day Parliamentary breakfast, so I missed his announcement that he has converted to feminism.
Having caught up with this news, I want to congratulate him for adopting the principles of equality of the sexes. I would also like to give him some advice on how to ensure his government and policies are, in fact, feminist.
First of all, Mr Abbott, the gender imbalance in your government is truly shocking: just one woman in your cabinet and women only 14 per of your total ministry. In your IWD speech you said: ''It wasn't so long ago as a Sydney-sider that there was a female lord mayor, a female premier, a female prime minister, a female head of state in our governor general, a female monarch, obviously, and indeed the richest person in our country was female.''
First principle to understand, Mr Abbott, is that ''once were'' does not cut it. Women need to be well represented in our current power structures, including your government, not just remembered for when they used to occupy significant positions.
Second, you need to recognise that your ''fair dinkum'' paid parental leave scheme is not going to do what you say it is. You have been badly advised if you really think that it will increase women's workforce participation. The Productivity Commission 2009 report on paid maternity, paternity and parental Leave argued for flat rate payments, rather than the income replacement (up to $150,000 per year for six months) that you propose, because ''the labour supply effects would be greatest for lower-income, less-skilled women - precisely those who are most responsive to wage subsidies and who are least likely to have privately negotiated paid parental leave''.
It also found that most highly educated, well-paid women already have a high level of attachment to the labour force and a high level of private provision, and therefore full income replacement ''would have few incremental labour supply benefits''.
Whoever told you that Australia is one of just two OECD countries not to have an income replacement PPL apparently neglected to tell you that these countries all have contributory social insurance which finances PPL rather than, as you propose, having it come from general revenue, albeit with a corporate tax contribution.
Also, when you remarked that you are ''still'' a strong supporter of the baby bonus ''for people who are not in the workforce - for parents who are not in the workforce'', perhaps you were not aware that your Treasurer announced in May last year that the baby bonus was to be abolished as a cost saving.
The $5.5 billion you save from not proceeding with your PPL would most usefully be redirected towards childcare. As any feminist can tell you, the availability and cost of childcare, far more than PPL, is the major determinant of whether women return to work after having babies.
I would like to know whether, with your new-found feminism, you propose to honour your predecessor Julia Gillard's undertaking, made in 2012, to, dedicate funds, hold an all-parties summit and start enforcing the law on female genital mutilation in Australia.
It certainly did not sound like it in New York this week when Michaelia Cash, your Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women, speaking at the UN Commission on the Status of Women, while strongly arguing for eradication of female genital mutilation in Australia, seemed to lamely suggest that it was all just a matter of raising ''awareness''. Not good enough, Mr Abbott.
Then, of course, there's the plan by your Employment Minister, Eric Abetz, to cut ''red tape'' by diluting the gender reporting requirements of large employers that have only just come into force and which were intended to track women's workforce participation and remuneration.
It's hard to think of a more basic feminist principle (apart from the right of women to control their fertility, an issue on which you also need to have a rethink) than ensuring women have the right to participate equally in our economy.
In fact, you told us in your IWD speech: ''The more we can ensure that women are economic as well as social and cultural contributors, the better for everyone.''
So I would urge you to tell Senator Abetz that you will not allow this rollback of a reporting regime that would provide us with a basic measure of women's contribution to the economy. In your ''unreconstructed'' days, when you were the employment minister yourself, you presided over a similar rollback of reporting that then prime minister Bob Hawke had legislated in 1986. We lost a good 15 years worth of measurements as a result of your dilution of those requirements - and maybe it's no coincidence that during that time the gender pay gap has stayed stubbornly at about 17 per cent.
We feminists (and economists, employers and many others) were looking forward to once again having some reliable data on women at work. Now that you are one of us, Mr Abbott, I know you will agree - and do the right thing.
Anne Summers is editor and publisher of Anne Summers Reports. @SummersAnne