How to build an Abbott-proof fence

Julia Gillard on the campaign trail.

Julia Gillard on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty Images

As International Women’s Day approaches, with less than six months before the federal election, it’s timely to reflect on the spectre of an Abbott government and what this means for Australian women.

History shows Tony Abbott’s views on women’s lives are regressive. His minders, careful to shore up the women’s vote, have buttoned up his straight jacket in an attempt to limit a repeat of his more outrageous statements. But the mud has rightly stuck and women are understandably wary.

The global theme for IWD is ‘The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum’.

The Australian Greens have identified ten important priorities to keep the momentum on women's equity, in line with this IWD theme and to strengthen the Abbott-proof fence.


Prime Minister Julia Gillard still has time to do the heavy lifting and implement this diverse but achievable ‘to do’ list and the Australian Greens are ready to work with her.

1.   Re-establish the Office for the Status of Women within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet

Australia needs more than a backseat driver for women’s issues, we need a feisty and dedicated office responsible for women within the PM’s office. The first Office for the Status of Women was a success until former PM John Howard downgraded it by merging it with the Department of Family and Community Affairs and renamed it the ‘Office for Women’. Since that time – while the efforts of hard-working women bureaucrats within the office who continue to push gender equity are impressive - the spotlight on women’s issues has dimmed considerably.

2.   Develop a clear and comprehensive plan to achieve Equal Pay

The gender pay gap currently sits at 17.5 per cent, widening from 15 per cent since the Howard years. The $2.8 billion the Gillard government allocated to implement Fair Work Australia’s decision for community workers is welcome, but far more is needed to pressure resistant states to budget for equal pay increases.

3.   Back the Greens’ Better Work/Life Balance Bill

Flexible working hours help reduce the stress women face combining work, family and caring responsibilities. Greens MP Adam Bandt’s Better Work/Life Balance Bill expands the right to request flexible working hours and allows Fair Work Australia to rule on requests for flexible work arrangements.

4.   Address tax and policy settings around superannuation

Part-time work, caring responsibilities and lower pay all help see women’s average superannuation payout sit at roughly a third of that of men. Offering paid parental leave with superannuation is one useful policy change. Tackling tax concessions on superannuation is another. These are costing the public purse around $30 billion each year, with almost half of the tax concessions going to the top 12 percent of earners who are predominately men.

5.   Increase the Newstart Allowance by $50 a week

The government’s tight fisted increase of $4 per week for Newstart recipients is an insult. Greens Senator Rachel Siewert's bill to increase the maximum single rate of Newstart by $50 per week is a reasonable ask considering the single rate of Newstart is more than $130 under the poverty line. A tougher mining tax is one way to pay for this urgently needed reform.

6.   Scrap Income Management

Evidence on the implementation of Income Management in the Northern Territory shows it is failing women and should be scrapped. Yet despite this the government is rolling it out in five new sites around Australia. Investment in jobs and services is needed, not this heavy handed paternalism.

7.   Stand firm on women’s right to choose

Attacks on women’s reproductive rights are possibly the most feared outcome of an Abbott led government.  DLP Senator John Madigan, who may hold the balance of power in the Senate after the election, is already attempting to whip up pro-life activism. Guaranteed access to safe and confidential reproductive health services, including abortion, is what most Australians want. PBS listing and the eventual subsidising of RU486 and Misoprostol to enable non-surgical abortion to be more widely accessible is crucial, particularly for women living in rural and regional Australia.

8.   Extend protection against discrimination at work to domestic violence victims

An estimated 1.2 million Australian women have experienced domestic or family violence. More is needed to support these women to stay safe at work and keep their jobs. Extending protection against workplace discrimination to victims of domestic violence is overdue.

9.   Increase overseas aid for family planning

The threat of interference by an Abbott government in how Australia spends its foreign aid is real. Family planning is key to reducing maternal mortality, which is the leading cause of death and illness for all women worldwide. We need a vocal commitment to continue and increase aid funding for reproductive and sexual health, with no strings attached, to avoid a repeat of the Brian Harradine years.

10.   Ensure parliament reflects the real world gender makeup

2013 is the 110th anniversary of Australian women winning the right to vote and stand in elections, and the 70th anniversary of the election of the first women to Federal Parliament. Actively working to increase representation of women at all levels of government would strengthen and boost our democracy.

*This is an edited extract of a Senate speech Lee Rhiannon gave on 25 February 2013



  • Yes, yes and yes. I would like to add that in addition to all of these the culture of over sexualisation needs to be addressed.

    This week we've seen the "be calm and" hurt her t-shirts but this is not the only disgrace that women face every day. Traditionally we've had to put up with facing the builders wolf whistling as we walk past, then idiots hanging out of their cars and hurling innuendo as they drive past. But this was all tame, still inappropriate, compared to what women and more importantly girls face each day where we are portrayed as nothing more than the playthings of men. A world where our prime minister is ridiculed for what she wears (and faces the most abhorrent comments on her body) something that no previous Prime minister has faced presumably because until now our leaders were men.
    In attaining the highest office in the land (barring Governor General of course not attracting the same kind of malicious comment because the position is apolitical I'm guessing) Prime Minister Gillard has suffered greatly at the hands of the opposition and now it seems we women are all targets of the most revolting attitudes.

    Something must be done before the men (obviously not all of them) decide that the cave men days were good enough and that women, like children should be seen and not heard.

    Wattle Glen
    Date and time
    March 07, 2013, 8:38AM
    • " A world where our prime minister is ridiculed for what she wears (and faces the most abhorrent comments on her body) something that no previous Prime minister has faced presumably because until now our leaders were men."

      oh dear Kerryn. A bit shrill and hysterical there. John Howard was ridiculed mercilessly for his appearance but i suppose that doesn't matter cause he was a male eh?

      Date and time
      March 07, 2013, 9:53AM
    • Maybe Ms Gillard just gets criticised because she isn't a very good Prime Minister as well as being a trade union appointed hack. I suspect that if she wasn't a woman, and Australia's first female PM, then she would have been sacked long ago.

      I struggle with the logic the loony left uses against Abbott. On the one hand they say he is completely without principle and will do anything to be PM. On the other he is a religious fanatic, a moralist and an overt misogynist that plans to subjugate the women of Australia. Clearly the two are in some conflict because if his policies when PM alienate woman then he won't be long in the role.

      I think a fairer criticism of Abbott is that he has about as much voter appeal, intellect and vision as PM Gillard - ie not much, but considerably more than Christine Milne. Personally i'll be voting for Nick Xenophon.

      Viv R
      Date and time
      March 07, 2013, 10:37AM
  • I really agree with what Lee Rhiannon is saying here. As a 24 female voter I will not vote for Abbott because he reminds me of a lot of men within the legal profession that imply women are inferior and incapable of doing the same if not better job than men. His comments about abortion and women just turn me right off the liberal party who I think have become more extreme with their inhumane policies and appeal to the lowest common denominator re asylum seekers. It saddens me that Abbott and his party are the alternative when there are so many intelligent and compassionate people who could lead this country. I will definitely be voting for the greens and then labor.

    Date and time
    March 07, 2013, 9:06AM
    • I just hope more women are like you Toucans as the thought of Abbott as PM or even worse Pyne as a Minister makes me ill. Alas this ship has sailed and Labour is going down in a big way.

      Date and time
      March 07, 2013, 11:32AM
    • The legal profession look down upon everyone. It is not a sexist profession.

      Date and time
      March 07, 2013, 12:23PM
    • Can you please take the time to ACTUALLY read what Abbott has said about abortion. Or are you just a Green/Labor voter pretending to be impartial. Because if you are impartial and you believe Abbott is against abortion, then perhaps you don't have the capacity to actually vote

      Date and time
      March 07, 2013, 12:25PM
    • Here here! And incidentally 2 of my 3 lawyers are female - selected by merit. As a client, it has certainly been my experience that the legal profession is rife with self important men who have poor listening skills.

      Date and time
      March 07, 2013, 12:40PM
  • Your argument at best is retrograde. It might spur the bar burning brigade into action, but it fails to address the real needs of our (both men and women) community.

    What we need are people to stand up for each other, not standing up for the individual. All the issues you address are social problems not sexism.

    Date and time
    March 07, 2013, 9:28AM
    • Bar burning? Say it isn't so! We're going to need the bars to get us through the next three years if Abbott wins...

      Date and time
      March 07, 2013, 11:37AM

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