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Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Tony Abbott forgets to put women in binders, leaves them in the hallway

In the first major act of his prime ministership, Tony Abbott yesterday announced his new cabinet which, with a few exceptions, recycles the Howard-era ministry and almost without exception excludes women. (I had trouble finding a picture for this post and settled on one that shows Abbott and the sole female cabinet member, Julie Bishop, engaged in what looks like a rugby manoeuvre; are they rucking? It might be some kind of weird one-a-side recreation of an international match with Abbott playing the Wallabies and Bishop as the All Blacks, but then of course it might not.) The list shows there are two women newly in the outer ministry with two women now leaving the outer ministry. Given this count it's hard to give credence to Abbott's assurance that "there are lots of good and talented women knocking on the door of the ministry" because clearly even if they wanted to knock they have effectively been sidelined by Abbott's choices as to who to favour and who to exclude.

In a cynical PR stunt, Abbott has also dropped a number of ministries and shortened the names of others, presumably to give the impression to punters that he will work at the head of a slimmed-down government. Many public servants in Canberra will now be spending more time on Seek.com. A lot of people were shocked to learn that Abbott's government would not include a minister for science, for example. Climate change has been subsumed within the environment portfolio and science has gone into the industry portfolio. "Look," Abbott is telling the good citizens of Australia, in a way redolent of the approach taken by Queensland premier Campbell Newman, who so deeply cut the public service in his state that the unemployment rate shot up by over a percentage point, "I'm a no-nonsense, practical guy and I want to take the government back to the way it was in the 1970s. Women? Innovation? Baloney!"

Rumour has it that Abbott has asked the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to issue a vintage 1936 Schwinn Excelsior Model B3 bicycle for Julie Bishop to use for those trips to the supermarket to buy jelly crystals and oven cleaner. A similar model of conveyance has been ordered for Bronwyn Bishop, the new speaker of the lower house, who reportedly refused appointment to the Ministry of Domestic Science at the last minute. The ministry was subsequently scrapped because Bishop is the only woman in the party who knows how to put her hair up properly. Abbott will however want to remember Cash and Nash when the time comes - presumably in about two years' time - to rearrange the furniture in his party room.

Overall you'd have to say that Abbott's "calm, methodical" approach really means "the way it was under Johnny" as part of his white-picket-fencing of government. Border protection is just another aspect of this push to please the mouth-breathing majority in the outer suburbs of the big cities. The fence will be constructed out of steel and supported on submerged floatation devices just the way it's done on an oil rig. It's not sure whether a similar fence will be constructed across the Tasman, but there is reason to believe that the good woman - Margie is a Kiwi - will use her feminine wiles to dissuade Tones from doing anything too drastic. One has to remember appearances, after all.

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