In 1975 I was asked to take part in the Lions Club Youth of the Year Quest. The competition was in two parts. Firstly we were asked for our views on current affairs. I remember East Timor was a hot topic at the time. Secondly, we had to give a speech on a subject of our own choosing.
The Lions Club had an interesting rule stating that, even though girls could compete, they could not go on to represent their district at the next level. This had to be done by a boy, so if I won, the boy who came second would go to the state finals rather than me. As it was International Women’s Year, I chose to make this the topic of my speech, pointing out that the word “youth” was defined as “the time of life between childhood and maturity” regardless of gender.
I’m not sure if they were shamed into it, or if I was a token, but I won the public speaking section and the headlines in the local paper the next day said “Schoolgirl pours scorn on sex bias” – something I copped quite a razzing for from my friends.
So why am I sharing this self-indulgent piece of personal history with you? Because almost 40 years later I am still having the same arguments.
Politicians like Cory Bernardi and Fred Nile still accuse women of using abortion as “an abhorrent form of birth control” and label those who advocate pro-choice as “pro-death”.
We have a Prime Minister who thinks that men and women have different abilities – and he considers that position to be evidence-based.
Mr Abbott said in the 1970s: “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.”
In 2004, he said: ‘‘Abortion is the easy way out. It’s hardly surprising that people should choose the most convenient exit from awkward situations.’’ If the rumours I have heard are true, it is a “convenient exit” that Mr Abbott took advantage of as a young man, well before the much publicised time that he left his girlfriend just after she had given birth.
In 2006 we were greeted with this headline.
“IT took 15 years for Gardasil to make a national hero of its creator, Ian Frazer. But it took just three days for the world’s first cancer-preventing vaccine to make a national dill of federal Health Minister Tony Abbott.”
The gatekeeper of the federal drugs budget rejected Gardasil for PBS subsidy and the application by the drug’s promoter, CSL, for a three-stage national immunisation program. While justifying his concerns about the price on radio, Abbott floated the bizarre idea that a misplaced confidence in the effectiveness of the vaccine might actually result in “an increase in cancer rates”.
It took just another 24 hours for the Prime Minister to put an end to the nonsense. John Howard, alert as ever to the public mood, delivered sparkling prime ministerial endorsement to Gardasil along with a clear direction to Minister Abbott that the immunisation program should proceed. And pronto.
“There is no lack of desire to get this wonderful drug available and the mass immunisation campaign to start as soon as possible,” Howard told Southern Cross Broadcasting.
Despite the fact that, in Australia, cases of human papilloma virus infection have dropped nearly 60 per cent since the immunisation program against the virus which causes cervical cancer began, Mr Abbott, whose views on virginity as a gift are well known, said no. ‘‘I won’t be rushing out to get my daughters vaccinated [for cervical cancer], maybe that’s because I’m a cruel, callow, callous, heartless bastard but, look, I won’t be.’’ Maybe it’s because he has the ridiculous notion that it will encourage his daughters to be promiscuous without taking precautions?
He has led the Liberal Party at the same time as the Party has experienced a decline in women’s participation at top levels. Senior Liberal women have publicly protested over the systemic sexism in the party. Good people like Judi Moylan, who had the courage to cross the floor on the asylum seeker issue, are ignored in the Liberal Party, with preference shown for fawning sycophancy and dramatic histrionics.
When Tony Abbott announced his Cabinet with only one woman there was justifiable outrage. We are back to girls not being able to represent at the next level, back to the old Lions Club rules. If there are no “women of merit” in the Liberal Party, they should be asking themselves why that is. If this caused outrage, Tony’s self-appointment as the Minister responsible for women’s policies and programs was the ultimate insult.
To be represented by the man who says he “gets” us, like we are some homogeneous group with clearly defined views and aspirations, the man who, when asked about the merits of the candidate he was campaigning with, could only come up with “She’s got sex appeal”, the man who uses “ironing” to explain carbon pricing to “the housewives of Australia”, is really just too much.
Don’t you worry your pretty little heads about that. The middle-aged white males have it all under control. “Women of calibre”, go forth and multiply. Single mothers, get off your butts and get a job you bludgers, and why haven’t you got a husband anyway? And all you fakers on the Disability Pension can do likewise – we know you are spending all that money on golf lessons and martinis. We will no longer be contributing to superannuation for those of you who fail to earn a large amount of money as you have obviously not taken advantage of the entrepreneurial opportunities on offer. And don’t think you will be getting an old age pension either. Why should those of us who earn a lot subsidise the workers who make us our money and the carers who are too lazy to get a job and provide for their own retirement.
Time to go find my apron and polish up on my darning.