He didn't even blink! To watch Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, tell Leigh Sales on the ABC's 7.30 this week that he is a crusader for women in parliament was a breathtaking moment.
"I stood up for the women in my team," he said. No blink. "I'm very serious about having great women in my ranks." Still no blink.
You could almost hear the scoffing. Loudest from that growing cabal of Liberal women who have outed him as a "bully" and "autocrat ... who has no moral compass" (Concetta Fierravanti Wells); "a horrible, horrible person" (former NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian); creepy like "menacing, controlling wallpaper", whose disgust of him is "visceral" (Julia Banks).
What's more, the glaring contradiction in his own words apparently eluded the PM: "I'm asked all the time, Leigh, why won't the Prime Minister do more about getting good women into parliament and stand up for the women in parliament."
For the simple reason, that the Liberal party's headline grabbing "woman problem", has snowballed on Morrison's watch. Back in 2018, the year he took the leadership, respected Liberal elder, Judith Troeth, claimed female representation in the parliamentary party was "disgracefully lagging".
While he's made some progress in cabinet, Liberal party women currently hold just 21.7 percent of seats in the House of Representatives, compared to Labour's 43.3 percent. Scott Morrison has repeatedly refused to countenance quotas for women in parliament or cabinet. Yet he agrees to National party quotas in his leadership team. And on several other bases; including by state, house and faction.
To placate growing disquiet he set up an all-girls "kitchen cabinet" outside his "ranks", excluded from the real game. He then gleefully dubbed Senator Marise Payne the "PM for Women".
And this from a man who is now re-marketing himself as a promoter of women into political power. Oh, please!
But desperate times call for desperate ... claims.
It is an understatement to suggest women are critical to this election outcome. We all know that. But to assume there is a "woman's vote" that can be neatly captured with a package of policy inducements in something such as a women's budget is as offensive, as it is stupid.
Ahead of the 1996 federal election, it was fashionable to investigate the so called "women's vote". Back then, as a journalist for the ABC's 7.30 Report, I went on the hunt to better understand why women appeared to be turning away from then prime minister Paul Keating. His 1993 election win saw a decline in female support, and the '96 poll was looking worse. It was particularly curious because Keating, following sage advice from his fearless femocrat, Dr Anne Summers, had introduced a swag of progressive polices specifically directed at benefiting women. Yet women, as a gender cohort, weren't impressed. Why?
At the time I was baffled by the group discussions we filmed. Despite probing policy questions, the talk always drew back to the man himself. Women wanted to discuss how much they liked him. Or not. By election day it was mostly not. When it came to popularity, one in four Australian women rated Keating a 0 out of 10.
Perhaps it was too soon for most of those Hawke-Keating affirmative action and equal opportunity policies to have really kicked in beyond a generation? Perhaps women could not yet feel the seismic change happening around them. On the face of it, the bar of expectation for gender equity was so much lower. Twenty-five years ago a feminist future was still just a wobbly mirage.
Now, we not only see it, smell it and feel it: we demand it.
Australia has changed. Women are everywhere you look. Not yet in the numbers we should be, and far from an equal or dominant share of power. But it's coming. We will get there. This is the century of women. Some men will grow and flow with it, others will be knocked out of the way by it.
Perhaps Morrison fears the latter. Or perhaps he just can't hear the death knell of patriarchy. Whatever it is that deludes a man who has enraged more than one hundred thousand citizens to march in protest against his repeated insensitivity to women, to then claim he is in their corner (after suggesting we were lucky we weren't shot!), is gobsmacking in its audacity.
But right now, ahead of the 2022 poll, Australian women are again firmly focused on the man at the top. Despite our diverse interests, concerns and ideologies, right now women are loosely united in one thing: the man. Do they like him? Trust him? Believe he cares about or understands them?
Ask around. You might be surprised by the repetition of response.
We see you Prime Minister. Why do you fail to see us?
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