Is Tony Abbott a feminist? He thinks so

04 Mar 2014

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has used a parliamentary International Women's Day breakfast in Canberra to label himself a feminist and declare women in Australia have smashed just about every glass ceiling.

Pointing to former prime minister Julia Gillard and governor-general Quentin Bryce (who steps down from the post this month) as evidence of the cracks in the ceiling, the PM also noted his wife told him that having three daughters helped turn him from "an unreconstructed bloke into a feminist".

"Anyone who is in Australian has won the lottery of life and if you look at our country and the deal that it gives to women; it is obviously pretty good. It wasn't so long ago as a Sydneysider that there was a female lord mayor, a female premier, a female prime minister, a female head of state in our governor general, a female monarch, obviously, and indeed the richest person in our country was female," he said.

"So, this is a nation which has smashed just about every glass ceiling, but we need to do more – we need to do more."

Though Abbott has just one woman in his cabinet and is considering plans to wind back the "red tape" for small businesses on reporting on gender equality, he added that the Coalition's commitment to providing a generous paid parental leave scheme was further evidence that he is committed to giving Australian women "a fair go". 

"I believe a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme is an idea whose time has come."

Abbott's paid parental scheme would see primary carers earning six months leave, capped to a salary of $150,000. He's proposed a 1.5% levy on big businesses to fund it and is still pushing bold plans to roll out the scheme, despite concerns that the economy is too weak to support its $5.5 billion pricetag.

Abbott said he recognised criticism of the proposed scheme, comparing the reception he received for his change of heart on paid parental leave to that experienced by former US president Richard Nixon who visited communist China in 1972. 

"It is a bit like when Nixon went to China, conservatives thought, 'my God, has he suddenly abandoned the faith?' Progressives thought, 'my God, is China no longer a progressive country?' The truth is this was a historic breakthrough," he said.

"This was one of those moments when people from all sides of politics needed to realise that a watershed had been reached."

Abbott, who is also the minister for women, said that previously he would have been uncomfortable speaking at an International Women's Day event but has changed his views on his policies for women, particularly after watching his three daughters grow up. 

"And it is true that my views on policy towards women have changed and evolved in response to watching friends of mine, watching colleagues of mine and in particular looking at my daughters grow up and thinking what would I want for them?" he said.

"What would I want for these beautiful, intelligent, sensitive girls who have so much going for them and who deserve a world which recognises all of their talents and wants to give them every possible opportunity."

"Now, they are growing up in Australia and, regardless of your circumstances, Australia is the best country in the world for everything."

Do you agree that Tony Abbott is a feminist?

Jordi Roth

Jordi Roth is a writer and producer for Women's Agenda.

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