Screen shot 2012 10 24 at 6.24.33 AM Sorry Tony. You dont need to have a baby to understand this.

Amy Stockwell.

By AMY STOCKWELL

And there it was, in all its revolting glory….

Yesterday, instead of a woman in her workplace being discriminated against for having children, I was seeing a woman in her workplace being discriminated against for not having children. I guess it’s a nice change, right?

You see, watching Sunrise is a guilty pleasure of mine. I’ll also admit to a healthy crush on Andrew O’Keefe. Yesterday Sunrise and fill-in host, Andrew O’Keefe, were together in beautiful harmony.

A harmony that was shattered when I heard the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, talking about the Baby Bonus.

In its mid-year Budget update on Monday, the Government announced that it will reduce the Baby Bonus from $5000 to $3000 for every child after your first.

Tony Abbott disagreed and outlined his child-rearing credentials. He then said, ”I think if the Government was a bit more experienced in this area, they wouldn’t come out with glib lines like that.”

Later on ABC radio, the Prime Minister said that it was up to the Leader of the Opposition to explain what he meant by his statement (which seemed fair in the circumstances). Mr Abbott said to 3AW’s Neil Mitchell, “Please…I was alluding to my own experience of a double pram [for two daughters, born 15 months apart]”.

By his own account, when he was talking about fiscal decisions relating to the Baby Bonus, Mr Abbott was referring to his own experience of having children. An experience that the Leader of the Opposition says the current Government needs – but doesn’t have – to make decisions about the Federal Budget.

Screen shot 2012 10 24 at 6.29.43 AM Sorry Tony. You dont need to have a baby to understand this.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott

Both the Treasurer and the Finance Minister who made the mid-year Budget statement have children – so presumably this wasn’t a jibe at their fecundity.

In fact, Penny Wong is a brand new mother.

Most likely, it was a glib line designed to paint the Leader of the Opposition as a consummate family man, in contrast to, say, a child-less Prime Minister.

Taken on face value, the content of Mr Abbott’s statement is ridiculous. You don’t need to be a parent to know that the Baby Bonus, an injection of either $5000 or $3000, is helpful and important for families at a time of significant cost pressures (you’d have to pay me a lot more to push a watermelon out of my bathing-suit area, but I can see that it is significant and worthwhile).

You don’t need to be a parent to know that it is also important for families (perhaps even more so) for Government to spend the Federal Budget on expanded early childhood education, affordable childcare, quality maternal and child health services and paid parental leave. Are there more effective ways for the Federal Budget to be used? Maybe. Maybe not. But you don’t need to have blended your DNA with someone else to make that decision.

Silly stuff, but of course, Mr Abbott’s comments aren’t really about the mid-year review. They are not even really about the Prime Minister. They are about the Leader of the Opposition himself.

These comments are about a man who is desperate to paint himself as a modern man, a hands-on dad and a gentle, sensitive fellow. He’s someone who knows about double prams. He’s not someone who punches walls.

Since the Government started calling out the Leader of the Opposition on his sexist behaviour, it has resonated with the electorate. When the Prime Minister named Mr Abbott a misogynist, it rang true and it rang around the world.

Screen shot 2012 10 24 at 6.29.50 AM Sorry Tony. You dont need to have a baby to understand this.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard

The public has been rightfully sceptical of recent media stunts and photo ops designed to turn that view around. Marching out your wife to say that you are not sexist does not amount to much. Hey, my mum thinks I’m cool, but that doesn’t mean that Andrew O’Keefe is going to call me.

Yesterday on 3AW, Mr Abbott tried to brush off concerns and comments about the apparent sexism of his Baby Bonus statements by saying, “What we’ve got is a Government that hyperventilates about all sorts of things at the least possible excuse”.

Blatant sexism is not a ‘least possible excuse’.

Lest I be charged with hyperventilating, I’m going to say this slowly: sexism is someone who is on the record as saying that women do not have the physiology or temperament for some jobs, particularly powerful ones.

It is someone who thinks that women should not be able to control their fertility – but they should be doing the ironing.

It is someone who treats women in power (be they Ministers, Prime Ministers or Speakers of the House) with disrespect and disdain – demonstrating that he does not believe that they should have that power. But surprisingly, it is not the fact that the Leader of the Opposition is still making offhand sexist comments and claiming wide-eyed innocence that worries me so much.

Screen shot 2012 10 24 at 6.25.22 AM Sorry Tony. You dont need to have a baby to understand this.

Tony Abbott at a carbon tax protest.

What concerns me the most is that, in making these casual statements, Mr Abbott is ‘dog whistling’ – quietly and effectively courting a constituency of closeted gynophobes – those people who would make signs saying the Prime Minister a bitch and who think that putting a woman in a chaff bag is funny.

A throw-away reference to childlessness here, an allusion to ‘making an honest woman’ there – it’s all Mr Abbott’s slow wink to sexist supporters that says: “hey, we all know this whole equality thing is a laugh, right?”.

Now that’s something to hyperventilate about.

 

Amy Stockwell is a policy communicator, lawyer and writer, former ministerial adviser, public servant and NGO-junkie. You can follow her on Twitter

Do you think Tony Abbott’s comments were acceptable? Have the events of recent weeks which have seen Tony Abbott labeled as sexist effected your likelihood of voting for the Coalition?



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