Mr Abbott, you appointed yourself Minister for Women. Why? You have never given a satisfactory account of your self-promotion. Was it to cover your ineptitude, your potential to insult and demean women any time you open your mouth? Or with your mouth shut, just giving a crafty wink? Perhaps you need a memory jog. There are many telling examples but let’s just recall a few beauties.
Remember when you praised a Liberal candidate for her “sex appeal”; or when you told those women netball players that “a bit of body contact never hurt anyone” or your pitch for the votes of Big Brother contestants “as I’m the guy with the not bad looking daughters”?
Remember when you suggested ironing was exclusively done by “the housewives of Australia” Remember when you let slip your own view of male superiority as leaders: “What if men are by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or to issue command?”
Remember when you channelled 1950s moral bigotry with your taunt that Julia Gillard should “make an honest woman of herself”? Remember letting others in your party get away with calling Gillard ‘deliberately barren’? Women have not forgotten. What’s barren is your effort to be any kind of Prime Minister for women. You call yourself a feminist?
You say you are a feminist because you have daughters. Mr Abbott, that’s not how it works. A feminist upholds the cause of equality for women. Of course equality involves change and we know you don’t like change. You have even less of a clue about reform.
So let’s make it even more basic. A feminist stands up for women’s rights. You have done less than nothing. In fact, you have effectively set back women’s rights. Human rights. And your self-appointment as Minister for Women has been a further obstruction.
Let’s take the most basic right, the right to feel safe. We’ll put it in economic terms first to keep it in your comfort zone. You are willing to spend billions on an anti-terror campaign which makes no-one, really any safer. Most of it is for show. Yet you won’t spare a cent on our real terror threat- the terror so many Australian women face daily at home.
Violence against women is endemic in Australian society. The very fabric of our society is infected by it. Apart from the immeasurable, unimaginably hideous suffering, it costs billions in lost opportunities; lost productivity. Women daily must contend with a rampant, devastating disease of epidemic proportions. Yet you won’t lift a finger to address the issue.
Why? Is it less glamorous? Less of a vote-winner? Too hard to get men to change their behaviour? Too long to wait to get a return on your investment? You need to get matters into perspective, Mr Abbott, it is not a matter of thrift. You need to look at the facts.
One woman a week is killed at home. Killed by a partner or former partner. In the past decade, domestic violence has killed between seven hundred to a thousand women and children. Almost half a million Australian women experience physical or sexual violence or sexual assault in the past 12 months according to ABS data. That’s half a million since you were elected. More than a million have been assaulted physically or sexually by male partners or ex-partners since they were fifteen.
Can you see the size of the problem, Mr Abbott? Can you see how it might dwarf any so-called Jihadist terror threat? Is it any clearer how your own focus on anti-terror measures is an indictment of your priorities?
You are wasting vast resources on presenting yourself as the nation’s macho protector, a make-believe role against an almost totally imaginary foe, while you ignore the real crisis of violence against women at home. Talk about pure evil, Mr Abbott, if you must, but the home-grown terror of domestic violence eclipses any death cult spawned by ISIS.
How many Australians are killed by terrorists? 113 since 1978. That includes Australians killed overseas and non-Australian men and women killed in Australia. You don’t need an accountant to see that you have wasted a fortune on invisibles. What is worse, is that some of this has come at the expense of women’s well-being; at the cost of their safety as a result of cuts in you budget. You have put women in even greater danger whilst splurging billions on what is largely an invented and inflated threat.
Women are often trapped in abusive relationships. Your budget makes it even harder for victims of domestic violence to escape. You cut the single parent tax benefit. You cut the National Rental Affordability Scheme. Your GP co-payment, too would effectively represent a cut in some women’s capacity to access medical help.
Violence against women is not a simple matter, Mr Abbott, even you must acknowledge that. Its causes are complex and deeply-rooted in the construction of the Australian male psyche, itself a product of powerful societal currents and forces. And there is a lot of work to do here. Yet without asking you to go too deep, you have to start looking at your own behaviour. You have to look at the way your leadership fosters a blokey, matey culture in which violence is condoned if not promoted. You may have got some attention when you made your shirtfront threat to Putin but it’s time for a Prime Minister who doesn’t foster a climate of expectations which says that problems are solved by violence, a climate in which challenges are not a macho contest of wills. Or force. Or power. We need a Prime Minister who is able to contribute to an inclusive and civilised national conversation, a zeitgeist that is not cripplingly narrowed to puerile, gladiatorial contests.
Sometimes, sadly, the job is just too big for the person, Mr Abbott, but a Prime Minister needs to be able to transcend primitive power plays; turn aside from petty competition, self-aggrandisement and vilification of the other. A Prime Minster needs to seek instead to redress injustice and heal division in his own patch; in his own party; in his own heart. And a Prime Minister who is also the Minister for Women needs to turn all this nation’s resources without delay towards the real terror that lurks within. The violence of Australian men against women must stop. Even if you achieve no other, this should be your first priority.