Why the Coalition will never win over Australian women

Education Minister Christopher Pyne at the National Press Club.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne at the National Press Club. Photo: Andrew Meares

Ever since Tony Abbott celebrated victory by declaring that ‘the adults are back in charge’, a good proportion of us - including many of the people who cast their vote for the LNP - have been waiting for them to arrive. (They were certainly nowhere to be seen when it was revealed Abbott’s view of ‘the age of entitlement’ didn’t apply to him and his family.) And so we wait for the adults to appear while the government’s leadership team ponces about, full of the kind of barely concealed contempt for the electorate which characterised their days in opposition.

But I suppose you’d be cheesed off too if you were expected to pledge public allegiance to a Prime Minister whose interpersonal skills and chronic foot-in-mouth disorder render him so ill-qualified for the position that you can practically see the outline of his handlers as they manage the desperate task of containing him. Even News Ltd bloggers and their readers have expressed concern about the Prime Minister’s inauthenticity and wooden appearances - an immensely gratifying turn of events, but depressing when one remembers how grotesquely Julia Gillard was hounded by these same people while in office. 

The people the Coalition really struggle to connect with are, as ever, the women of Australia. Remember, this is a political party which considers one woman to be adequate representation in a cabinet of 19 people. In the past week alone, egregious examples of the Government’s disconnect with women have emerged.

Senator Eric Abetz says studies have drawn a link between abortion and breast cancer.

Senator Eric Abetz says studies have drawn a link between abortion and breast cancer. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Let’s take a look.


1. The World Congress on Families

When Julia Gillard warned that under an Coalition government, abortion would become the ‘political plaything of male politicians’, she was ridiculed for ‘playing the gender card’. And yet here we are, with no less than three prominent Liberal party federal politicians and two Victorian state based MPs scheduled to appear at a conference in which, in amongst its grossly homophobic and misogynist agenda, lies the factually inaccurate and medically disproven claim that abortion leads to breast cancer.

In an interview with Channel Ten’s The Project, Coalition leader in the Senate and conference speaker Eric Abetz cited medical studies from the 1950s to support the conference’s claims. In addition to his scientifically unsupported views, Abetz also reiterated his belief in the structure of the nuclear family, essentially further marginalising the many queer and/or single mothers who admirably participate in the work of raising Australia’s next generation. Good one, Abetz.


2. Christopher Pyne hasn’t studied statistics

Eric Abetz isn’t the only senior Liberal peddling false information on the nation’s airwaves. When questioned by Sarah Ferguson (aka SASHA FIERCE) on The 7:30 Report about how the government’s higher education interest payments will disproportionately affect low income earners and women (often one and the same), Pyne’s response revealed rather more than he intended about his attitude towards women. In Pyne’s view, vice chancellors and their leadership teams will know not to charge higher fees for courses “which are typically going to be studied by people who’ll be nurses and teachers and therefore not earn high incomes over a period of time.”

It’s true that nursing and teaching are feminised industries and as a result are often poorly paid. But what Pyne said next is simply staggering in its ignorance.

“They will not be able to earn the high incomes that say dentists or lawyers will earn...therefore the debts of teachers and nurses will be lower than the debts, for example, of lawyers and dentists.”

That women form just over 61% of all law graduates is something Pyne conveniently ignores or worse, would never even consider. That they hold only about 22% of the senior positions in law firms seems to support rather than refute the idea they’ll be disproportionately discriminated against by changes to HECS repayments.

In the grand scheme of things, the fortunes of female lawyer graduates are not as concerning as the practice of undervaluing feminised industries or the likelihood of women’s poverty in general - but it is worrying that our own Education Minister seems to have developed his view on women in the workplace from Little Golden Books. Mummies Work Too Now, Chris.


3. Sex workers unfairly targeted by changes to Newstart

Last week, it was revealed that jobseekers under the age of 30 may be entitled to a whopping four weeks exemption to the government’s proposed six month waiting period to receive Newstart if they can prove they’ve been gainfully employed. However, it appeared in the information released that work that “involves nudity or is in the sex industry” would not be considered ‘gainful’ under these terms.

While Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews (who, incidentally, will be delivering the opening and closing addresses at the World Congress on Families) has moved to clear up confusion about the rights of sex workers under these proposed changes, the government’s position still remains shaky. A spokesperson for Mr Andrews office has said, “A person lawfully employed in any industry, including the sex industry, will qualify [for a reduction in the waiting period].”

The question therefore becomes whether or not the government recognises sex work (yet another ‘feminised industry’) as ‘lawful employment’. Considering Mr Andrews’ moral position on the matters of women having sex outside of marriage - let alone for a financial transaction - I think we’ll need a lot more than a vocal reassurance from his office.


4. The future of the Liberals is in safe hands

Learning from their predecessors, it would appear that the Young Liberals of Australia foster some of their own problems in regards to women’s inclusion. In screen shots leaked to The Age, it was revealed that senior members of the University of Melbourne’s Young Liberals group had posted misogynistic and racist rants on a private Facebook page, at one point describing Germaine Greer as “a lying f---ing c-m guzzling slut...and a union member.”

The poster of that message, Stefan Eracleous, denounced Greer for not believing in God or having children, evidently failing to spot the irony in behaving in a less than Christ-like manner while also demonstrating ample reason as to why he should never be allowed to breed.

While it should surprise exactly no one with half a working brain that a group which prides itself on hating anyone who isn’t rich, white and male would think of women as merely ‘sluts’ and ‘c--ts’, it doesn’t bode well for the public image of the Liberal Party proper.

But then, when this is your public image, what else can you expect?