MIA: "I'm defending Tony Abbott. Let's go."

Tony Abbott




Tony Abbott doesn’t need me to defend him. But I’m going to do it anyway.

Yesterday, he made some comments about why he remains committed to his Paid Parental Leave scheme whereby new mothers would be paid their full salary for six months, a scheme funded by a levy on big business (click here to read more detail of the coalition’s paid parental leave policy and those who are opposed to it).

Referring to tertiary educated women at an executive level who will be paid their full wage instead of minimum wage as they currently are with the ALP’s paid parental leave scheme, here’s what Tony Abbott said yesterday:

[these women are] “in the prime of life and they should be able not just to have kids, but to have careers”.

“We do not educate women to higher degree level to deny them a career,” he said.

“If we want women of that calibre to have families, and we should, well we have to give them a fair dinkum chance to do so. That is what this scheme of paid parental leave is all about.”

Did you pick the egregious word in those few sentences?

It’s this: “calibre”.

And so, that was the cue for social media – and two of my favourite ALP ministers Tanya Plibersek and Penny Wong – to turn apoplectic, with the #womenofcalibre hashtag immediately established to ridicule Abbott’s comments:

The line was this: Tony Abbott thinks only highly educated women should procreate! Tony Abbott is being sexist and classist and dissing women with low incomes! Many prominent women gleefully joined the party, amplifying the outrage on social media, accusing Abbott of denigrating women without tertiary degrees or white collar jobs.


Give. Me. A. Break.

He was doing no such thing.

He was simply making the point – albeit a little clunkily but not everyone is as sublime or technically masterful a spontaneous public speaker as Obama – that PPL should be linked to an individual’s income not based on the minimum wage. In the same way sick leave and annual leave is.

Legendary feminist Eva Cox agreed, calling the #womenofcalibre flare up an over-reaction. ”Paid parental leave is a salary-related, work-related payment not a welfare payment” she said. “I think that’s what Tony Abbott was trying to say in a somewhat clumsy way.”

Publisher Mia Freedman (right) with Tanya Plibersek, who has been outraged by Tony Abbott’s comments

To take his comments otherwise is to be looking for a fight. Looking to be outraged.

Tony Abbott has copped a huge amount of flak since becoming opposition leader, for his views about women. Rightly or wrongly, there is a perception that his views are retro at best, sexist at worst and that women should be worried about the prospect of him as Prime Minister.

Ok. So he proposes to do something extremely progressive, swims against the tide of many in his own party and floats a Paid Parental Scheme that leap-frogs the current scheme to the overwhelming benefit of women. And? Those same women seek to slam him for it, based on a single word.

These predictably gleeful Gotcha! moments have become the toxic albatross of politics, sapping it of all authenticity and turning it into stultifyingly boring rhetoric. Wall-to-wall blah-blah-blah.

The most common complaint about politicians? They sound like robots. They’re wooden and rehearsed and they speak in cheesy, cringe-worthy, on-message slogans like ‘stop the boats’ and ‘moving forward’.

They’ve had too much media training and they all sound the same. Their lips move but what comes out of their mouth is white noise.

We all agree we hate that, right?

The alternative, is politicians speaking a little more freely. Tossing out the predictable script of mind-numbingly dull market-researched phrases that have been ticked off by a phalanx of spinners.

But every time they cautiously try to do that, we jump all over them. We fashion their words into sticks and then whack them half to death. We deliberately twist their intentions and willfully misrepresent the point they’re trying to make.

Once upon a time, Mia had breakfast with Tony Abbott…

And for what? Who does this benefit exactly? I am all in favour of debate obviously. The websites I publish are founded on interesting, engaged debates around issues big and small. And I understand that people have different thresholds for what they find outrageous, offensive or worthy of criticism.

But on social media and in politics, this obsession with pettiness and the constant searching for a ‘gotcha’ moment is so stifling and smug as to be simply maddening.

By all means, let’s hold politicians to account. If you don’t agree with Tony Abbott’s proposed PPL scheme then argue your point. In my opinion it’s visionary, one of the most forward thinking policies in recent times and I’m happy to engage in a debate about that.

But unless we want a bunch of uninspiring, robotic drones, sprouting inane rhetoric, it’s time to start looking at the substance of what our public figures are saying, rather than expecting them to be word perfect every time.

Did the comments made by Tony Abbott concern you? How do you think we can raise the standard of debate in Australian politics?

Here is Mia discussing Tony Abbott on the Today show this morning: