Prime Minister Tony Abbott during Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday 18 March 2014. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
The role of Minister for Women needs to be treated as more than just a political Band-Aid to try and cover up the Prime Minister’s continual gender faux pas.
Tony Abbott, or at least his team of advisers, knows that Australian women don’t take insults to their equality and independence lightly.
Presumably, that’s why we saw some pretty obvious attempts to paint the Prime Minister as a feminist in the lead up to the election, when Mr Abbott’s daughters seemed to be ever at his side.
But no matter how many female family members or staff members came out in support of Mr Abbott’s views on gender, his actual behaviour gave us some pretty disturbing insights.
We heard Mr Abbott describe one of his party’s female candidates as having “sex appeal”; tell a group of young female netball players that “a bit of body contact never hurt anyone” and then tell Big Brother contestants to vote for him “as I'm the guy with the not bad looking daughters”.
The election blunders came on top of his past comments – he seemed to think that ironing was exclusively done by “the housewives of Australia” and that Julia Gillard should “make an honest woman of herself”.
Buried deeper in Mr Abbott’s past are his comments about abortion being “the easy way out” and on women and leadership ("What if men are by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?”), as well as allegations that as a university student he punched a wall close to a female student’s head.
There’s no doubt that Tony Abbott’s appalling track record of demeaning comments about women would be a public relations nightmare.
And, to me, his appointment as Minister for Women came across as a blatant attempt to try and fix his “problem with women”.
But even with the new title, Tony Abbott still just can’t help himself when it comes to misogynist behaviour.
This week, we saw our Minister for Women wink and smirk in response to an elderly woman, with health problems, describing on radio how she makes ends meet with multiple jobs, including as a sex line worker.
It’s a national embarrassment that this is the natural response from the person charged with representing women in our federal Parliament.
Much like women around the nation, it made my stomach turn – and then made me wonder how our Prime Minister behaves behind closed doors.
We need a Minister for Women who is prepared to stand up for women – not simply dismiss their problems with a wink, laden with prejudice and judgement.
And I think that person should be a woman.
We Greens are calling on the Prime Minister to step down as Minister for Women and to appoint a woman for the role, a woman prepared to tackle to real issues and the systemic discrimination that women still face.
Instead, we will see these issues will only be made worse by Tony Abbott’s budget.
This brutal budget will make it harder for victims of domestic violence to escape, with cuts to the single parent tax benefit and the National Rental Affordability Scheme.
The GP co-payment could also make it impossible for victims, who do not have control over their own finances, to see a doctor without telling their abusive partner.
With one Australian woman a week killed by their partner or a former partner, it’s simply unacceptable to be taking away what little support is currently in place.
The budget’s university fee interest hikes will disproportionately affect women, who are more likely to work in the lower-paid community sector and take time off to have children.
On average, women earn 17 per cent less than men; many face workplace discrimination when they become pregnant or return from maternity leave and most accumulate less superannuation than men.
Having to pay more than men for HECs, is going to make this financial inequity even worse.
All of this systemic discrimination will be harder to fix with just one woman in Cabinet; a male Minister for Women whose views on gender are reminiscent of the 1950s; and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women, who although a woman, does not describe herself as a feminist.
The Greens will be doing all we can in the Senate to block Abbott’s cruel budget cuts, which will be felt deeply by women, especially those who need the most help.
Seven out of our 11 federal Greens MPs are women, proudly led by Christine Milne, so you can be sure we’ll be going over the budget bills with an eagle eye to how they will affect women.
Senator Larissa Waters is the Australian Greens spokesperson for Women.