“The point I want to make first of all is this is the same office which ran a very effective opposition, it’s the same office which has got an enormous amount done this year, sometimes under very difficult circumstances,” he told ABC Breakfast.
“The other point I make, do you really think that my chief of staff would be under this kind of criticism if her name was P-E-T-E-R as opposed to P-E-T-A?”
When asked whether that was a direct message to his colleagues, Mr Abbott responded: “I think people need to take a long, hard look at themselves with some of these criticisms.”
It’s extraordinary that Abbott, who triggered Julia Gillard’s famous misogyny speech in Parliament in October 2012 and then characterised it as playing the gender card, is now recognising the existence of sexism.
Could this be the beginning of an understanding on his part that sexism is not merely the construct of angry or opportunistic women, but instead a reality that is rife? That realisation wouldn’t be a minute too soon for the Minister for Women.
Perhaps the next awakening is recognising the way in which he – and his Cabinet ministers – have contributed to that dynamic. Not just in the way Peta Credlin is being treated but in the way Australian women are collectively being treated.
There is no doubt that some of the commentary around and the criticism of Peta Credlin has been laced with sexism. Equally, however, the gender of his chief of staff does not explain everything about the problems that are currently afflicting Tony Abbott and his government. As Julia Gillard quite aptly put it on the night she departed the office of PM, gender explains some things but not everything.
In relation to his own prime ministership that is the reality Abbott needs to consider; his woes do not sit wholly with his chief of staff. But, he’s welcome to clamp down on sexism.