Feminist outrage too quick off mark

Feminists have attacked Prime Minister Tony Abbott simply for doing something the women's sector has been requesting for years, according to a leading feminist academic.

Mr Abbott's government came under sustained fire when he announced that the Office for Women would sit in his own department and the Minister Assisting for Women, Michaelia Cash, would be in the outer ministry.

But the Australian National University's Susan Harris Rimmer says the move is a triumph for women and many of the critics have not fully understood the treatment of the office under the previous Labor government.

According to the academic with the ANU's Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy, Mr Abbott has endured a storm of criticism and mockery on social and mainstream media and from prominent feminist campaigners, one of whom started a 10,000-signature petition.

But Dr Harris Rimmer, an international expert on women's issues, says ''some facts have been obscured by the heat of the reaction'' to the new governance arrangements.

Writing in Fairfax Media's Public Sector Informant, the academic argues that Mr Abbott has moved the Office for Women closer to the heart of the cabinet decision-making process.


The office was moved, controversially, from Prime Minister and Cabinet into the then Department of Home Affairs by former prime minister Malcolm Fraser before being restored to the prime minister's portfolio by Bob Hawke.

John Howard moved the Office for Women into the Department of Families and Community Services, where it remained under the Rudd and Gillard governments, and the most senior Labor minister to hold the portfolio was Jenny Macklin, who was never minister for women.

''Abbott did not rip out or demote a cabinet position relating to women that had a long history of being a cabinet position under Labor,'' Dr Harris Rimmer writes.

''He does not become the minister for women; women's policy becomes part of the prime ministerial portfolio.''

Dr Harris Rimmer says Mr Abbott's Administrative Arrangements Order made good on the policy he took to the election.

''Moving the office back into PM&C was the No.1 issue in the Coalition's policy for women, released just before the election,'' she writes. ''It was responding to calls from across the women's sector.''

Dr Harris Rimmer says the new arrangements fell victim to a general sense of outrage that Mr Abbott had appointed just one woman to cabinet and that some of the Prime Minister's critics did not fully understand Labor's record on the issue.

But the ANU academic writes that many in the women's sector saw the move as a triumph.

''Those of us who believe that governance arrangements reflect policy outcomes were delighted that years of patient lobbying had paid off,'' Dr Harris Rimmer wrote.

She says that two key initiatives - the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children and the Australian National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security - would now benefit from being close to the PM's office.

''If ever there were two initiatives that needed PM&C's clout to progress, it is those two,'' she writes. ''The plans together represent decades of hard lobbying and dialogue.

''There is no evidence that the Coalition is going to abandon the initiatives and contrary evidence in its policy platform.''


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