One-woman cabinet: PM Tony Abbott has announced he will take personal responsibility for women's issues. Photo: Andrew Meares
When the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, announced his new cabinet on Monday, it was broad brushstroke. A day later, we discover Mr Abbott will be responsible for women's policies and programs, with the assistance of West Australian senator Michaelia Cash, as minister assisting.
His reason? "This will ensure that these key whole-of-government priorities are at the centre of government." And the real agenda? To ensure that he has final control over decisions which affect women. His values align with a society which says women are not equal. It's not just that they are not the same as men, they don't deserve equality.
At first appearance, it is not exactly like appointing a rumoured climate change denier as the Minister for Science. Or an anti-vaccination fruit loop – if those people still exist – as the Minister for Health.
It's much worse. Here's why. Mr Abbott believes men and women have different abilities – and he considers that position to be evidence-based.
Four Corners' Liz Jackson reported in 2010 that Mr Abbott had previously said: "I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons."
This explanation might have washed when men were hunters and women were gatherers – but technology has removed the physical differential out of most tasks. And naked ambition should account for the rest.
Mr Abbott's own daughters say that their father has always encouraged them to be the best – but judging by this 2010 comment, the best might not include being the best civil engineers, orthopaedic surgeons or firefighters. Best within limits is not best at all.
Mr Abbott on women’s health rights? In 2004, he said: ‘‘Abortion is the easy way out. It’s hardly surprising that people should choose the most convenient exit from awkward situations.’’ And seven years ago, when the vast majority of Australian parents were privileged to be able to have their daughters vaccinated against the virus which causes cervical cancer, Mr Abbott, whose views on virginity as a gift are well known, said no.‘‘I won’t be rushing out to get my daughters vaccinated [for cervical cancer], maybe that’s because I’m a cruel, callow, callous, heartless bastard but, look, I won’t be.’’ In Australia, cases of human papilloma virus infection have dropped nearly 60 per cent since the immunisation program began.
This appointment should never have happened in Australia in 2013. We are a modern educated nation which should pride itself on the high levels of women's educational attainment. The World Economic Forum rates us as No. 1 on that measure. There are talented women in the Liberal Party who have been marginalised; John Howard had more women on his front bench and if Mr Abbott perceives a decline in merit of female candidates, it is one over which he has presided.
He has led the Liberal Party at the same time as the Party has experienced a decline in women's participation at top levels. Senior Liberal women have publicly protested over the systemic sexism in the party. They've done it with real names and real quotes all over mainstream media.
And if he's allowed that to happen in his own party, where he must experience some backlash, imagine what he's going to do to the rest of us.
Jenna Price is a co-founder of the feminist movement Destroy the Joint, a Canberra Times columnist and a senior lecturer in journalism and social media at the University of Technology Sydney. facebook.com/destroythejoint