Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ministerial Responsibility

There has been much criticism of Prime Minster Abbott's assigning policy responsibility for the status of women to the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) portfolio. This is understandable considering Abbott's many sexist public statements. 

Abbott has gone on the record saying:
"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"
So it is unsurprising that there was a strong reaction to Abbott essentially appointing himself Minister for the Status of Women. However, it has been pointed out that the bringing of the Office of the Status of Women into a central policy making agency such as Prime Minister and Cabinet has the potential to make policies affecting women closer to the heart of the decision making process.

While this is true, the corollary of this is that now Abbott himself, as the Minister, is accountable for every sexist comment of his Government, sexist policy (in any portfolio) and his passive acceptance of any sexist comments from his cheerleaders in the media. So next time Abbott spouts his sexism, he cannot hide behind being a "daggy dad". Every time shock jocks spout their sexism, he cannot let it pass and every time his Ministers make gender based attacks on women in parliament it is Abbott who is responsible for holding them to account.

If Abbott was truly going to take responsibility for stemming the sexism that he himself unleashed it would be worth giving him the benefit of the doubt, but unfortunately he has already shown his mettle.

In his first media interview since becoming the Minister, Tony Abbott, Minister for the Status of women said:
"I don't think women suffer legal discrimination and I don't think anyone these days sets out to do the wrong thing but it is very difficult for women to combine work and family if they don't have a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme and that's going to change very soon under the Coalition."
Legal discrimination? All discrimination on the basis of gender is illegal. Bringing the Office into PM&C may be a positive step for policy making but it is clear that the Minister to whom they report is sexist and unfit for the the office.