The public relations campaign to win over the hearts and minds of Australian’s for our various political parties continues. Today that PR battle accelerated with the all guns blazing entry into the political debate of the wife of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. This political intervention has come on a usually politically quiet Friday, a great time to get airplay. The purpose of this battle to win over the electorate, an attempt to alter a perception, some of which has been proved a reality, that Tony Abbott has a problem with women. So of course, it’s a logical step to have the number one woman in the life of Mr Abbott, his wife Margie, speak out about the man she knows so well.
The key long-term aim of the Margie Abbott media blitz is an attempt to shore up some support among women for the leader of the Coalition and the side of politics that he has represented since December 2009.
However, the main-game, as far as the short-term politics of the situation, is to counter the most recent of attacks that Abbott has faced over the way it is perceived he has dealt with women in light of recent events and unearthed allegations. This has been prompted by the s0-called ‘handbag hit-squad’, female Labor Party MP’s, who have used a situation involving the Acting Speaker, Anna Burke as well as recently unearthed allegations against Tony Abbott from his university days.
It is at this juncture that we reach the first problem. The Liberal Party, mostly through the women on the frontbench and other female MP’s, but also the wider caucus, have decided it is a good idea to refer to Labor women as the ‘handbag hit squad’.
Coming from women only the term, catchy, yet over the top, is okay, though not ideal as a catchphrase to be utilised. It demeans politics even further than politicians have demeaned the occupation before. However, women referring to each other in that way will have much less of an impact, perhaps none at all than if men were to do the same.
Unfortunately, there has been the odd instance where male Coalition MP’s have taken to using the phrase. That does not look good at all. That just reinforces perceptions and helps them evolve into further home truths. It is blatant sexism. Repel the attacks based on the latest perceived indiscretions, but especially from the men of the Liberal and National Party’s, sexist intervention is not needed.
But back directly to the issue at hand: Does Mr Abbott have a problem with women? The short answer is ‘yes’, but it is a little more complicated than just saying outright that Tony Abbott is not seen in a good light by women and that he has a problem with women outright. In fact, it is entirely arguable that Tony Abbott does not have a problem with women, but rather, a problem with women’s issues.
Tony Abbott has said some very stupid and offensive things over the years, from comments on women’s equality, to abortion and the want to deny reproductive rights. The majority of these came when a minister in the Howard Government, particularly around the time of, as well as before and after becoming Health Minister.
These beliefs, do they come from a purely deep-seated hatred of women or from a religious background, a freely chosen inculcation of outdated beliefs that should hold no relevance in a free society?
The answer is almost certainly the latter as David Marr has recently argued. Since his childhood, the Leader of the Opposition has been brought up to believe certain things. In adult life, he freely chose to continue his religious experience and held onto the perceived teachings of the Bible. But this does not make those beliefs ones that should be prosecuted by a political representative in a liberal democracy where individual choice is supposed to be a key tenet. Far from that, it’s just common decency to think of all being equal.
The attack against Abbott in relation to how he dealt with Deputy Speaker Anna Burke however, is just a convenient usage of some incredibly horrific remarks from the past. Old words have been used to artificially construct an argument that because he pushed the boundaries in parliament, his actions were because of a problem with the fairer gender. The accusation is so absurd as to be laughable. His recent behaviour is a product of many things, including a thirst for power and media attention, but it’s a real stretch to characterise being a bit obnoxious in parliament as disdain for women.
As for the alleged events in his university days? Well, they are just allegations at this stage that have not been proven one way or the other. If they were proven to be true, then that would change the ballgame.
The television and airwaves mini-blitz, because of the long-term and justified impression of Abbott as having a problem with women’s issues will probably amount to little benefit. It was slow getting off the mark, years too late. Instead, Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party will be playing catch-up and probably, if there is any actual gain, only achieve a small uptick in support.
But of course, the Liberal Party will continue to pursue this campaign. The Opposition have to at least try to appear as if they and Tony Abbott is speaking to a wide array of women that hold a wide array of beliefs, even if the reality is the opposite.