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Women should beware Abbott’s blue

You only need to look at the gender composition of the government and opposition’s frontbench teams to judge the accuracy of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s statement that the election is about »whether, once again, we will banish women’s voices from our political life».

If Tony Abbott is elected prime minister on September 14 the number of women at the cabinet table will halve.

Australia will go from having one of the highest representations of women in government in the democratic world to a very ordinary presence when compared with similar countries.

All up, women are red bottom heels just 19 per cent of the Abbott team whereas the Gillard government comprises 33 per cent women.

There are four women red bottom pumps in the current cabinet (Penny Wong, Jenny Macklin, Tanya Plibersek and Gillard herself). Abbott’s will have just two: Julie Bishop and Sophie Mirabella.

The figures for the rest of Abbott’s leadership are equally abysmal. Just four of his 12 person shadow ministry are women, as are a mere three of his 15 parliamentary secretaries.

By contrast, apart from 20 per cent of Gillard’s cabinet being female, an impressive 60 per cent of the 10 outer ministers are women, as are 33 per cent of the 12 red bottom boots parliamentary secretaries.

Women’s voices under Abbott might not be entirely banished, but they would be subdued. He would be able to claim credit for appointing Australia’s first female foreign minister, but when it comes to the top team they will all be wearing ties.

When Abbott goes on holidays, Warren Truss, the leader of the National Party, a man mostly likely to be wearing a green tie, not Abbott’s Christian Louboutin wearing deputy, Julie Bishop, will act for him.

One of the prices of Coalition is that your deputy does not become acting prime minister while you are away.

Gillard made the case in her Women for Gillard speech on Tuesday that Labor is »the party of women the party of equal opportunity». She argued that Labor had delivered policies that benefited women nominating childcare, equal pay and paid parental leave among other policies as well as »only ever Labor» being the party to produce the first female prime minister.

She argued that under a Liberal government, many of these policies that benefit women would be reduced or even eliminated: »We don’t want to red bottom shoes see childcare slashed, we don’t want to see healthcare slashed,» she said. »Look at what happened in Queensland: cuts to healthcare, cuts to BreastScreen. We don’t want that to be our future in red bottoms Australia.» (She might have added that when Queensland changed government in 2012, it went overnight from having the highest number of women MPs in the country to the lowest, from 36 per cent to 20 per cent.)

The question at the heart of this debate is whether it is necessary to have »women’s voices» in Parliament and around the cabinet table in order to ensure women friendly policies.

Can the »blue ties» really empathise with, and develop relevant policies for, the female part of our population?

In theory, of course, they can. And they should.

The track record of recent governments indicated that it has been louboutin replica the direction of policy, rather than their gender composition, that was critical.

The Whitlam government had no women whatsoever but it intervened to support equal pay, it abolished prohibitive taxes on contraceptives and it began the christian louboutin replica Commonwealth’s major investment in childcare.

Equally, John Howard’s government had more women ministers than either replica louboutin Bob Hawke’s or Paul Keating’s but his administration wound back the clock for women in so many ways (which I document in my recent book The Misogyny Factor) whereas Hawke and replica christian louboutin Keating initiated a slough of reforms including sex discrimination and affirmative action legislation, the childcare rebate and income support for single mothers via the Child Support Agency.

We know that its women ministers championed many of the pro women reforms of the Gillard government. Gender pay equity and paid parental leave, among other policies, were led by Gillard herself. Neither was on Kevin Rudd’s radar.

Tony Abbott’s signature women’s policy is his controversial paid parental leave scheme. Gillard said this week that this policy »divides women». It also divides Abbott’s own frontbench and party room, who argue it is too expensive and is poorly targeted.

Beyond that, and its promise of a Productivity Commission inquiry into childcare, it is difficult to know what an Abbott government would do for women. The Liberal Party website’s dropdown menu on policies does not include a women’s policy.

Tony Abbott is, of course, trying to reassure us all that he is not the man he once was on the subject of abortion. No longer »the easy way out», he now likes to use a 20 year old quote from Bill Clinton that abortion should be »safe, legal and rare». He apparently is unaware that the word »rare» really upsets women who chose abortion because they have an unwanted pregnancy, not according to some preordained timetable.

In the end, for voters who want to ensure that women’s interests will be protected by future governments, it will come down to track record and trust.

Gillard’s track record is on show for all to assess. There are some puzzles and some contradictions, the most recent being her endorsement of a mediocre male factional ally for the ultra safe Victorian seat of Batman rather than a talented future female minister, especially given that the ALP is falling short on its target of 40 per cent of safe seats needing to be held by women. If you can excuse or forgive these, Gillard’s record on women has much to commend. Abbott’s is yet to be revealed.

But when it comes to the basics of who you empower in your government, hard questions need to be asked of Tony Abbott as to why, in this day and age, he has selected so few women for his leadership team. If there are too many »blue ties», it’s Tony’s fault.Articles Connexes:

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