Right: Opposition leader Tony Abbott, flanked by Coalition colleagues Sophie Mirabella and Bronwyn Bishop, addresses a rally in front of signs and placards. Mr Abbott later said that he did not know the signs were behind him when his address was televised.
Arguments suggesting Australian politics is prejudiced against women
1. The number of female parliamentarians is far smaller than the number of male politicians
In March 2012, a parliamentary background note was produced outlining the extent of the representation of women in all Australian parliaments at that time. It found women comprise less than one-third of all parliamentarians in Australia and occupy less than one-quarter of all Cabinet positions. It also stated that the number of women in the Senate reached its highest point after the 2010 Commonwealth election, but that the number of women in the House of Representatives declined.
When comparing the proportion of women in national parliaments internationally, the background note observed that Australia's ranking has slipped from 21 to 38 over the past decade.
In an article published a year later on June 27, 2013, former member of the Victorian House of Representatives, Mary Delahunty, noted that the situation had become slightly worse, 'What is alarming is how we have slipped down the international rankings. Comparing the proportion of women in national parliaments, Australia has slipped down from 23rd to 46th in the past decade, behind Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Rwanda.'
The international rankings from which Delahunty drew her data indicate that Australia is nine places behind Afghanistan, a country within which women have previously been excluded from education and from any place in public life.
Critics of these numbers argue that it is unacceptable that when women constitute a little over half of the Australian population, they should constitute less than a third of Australia's political representatives. (At 30 June 2010, the sex ratio of the total population for Australia was 99.2 males per 100 females.)
2. Female parliamentarians occupy far fewer leadership positions
It has been noted that women occupy far fewer leadership positions in politics than do men.
Referring to women's under-representation in political leadership roles a parliamentary background note published in April 2013 stated, 'In the federal government, seven ministers including the Prime Minister were women, compared with 23 ministers who were men.'
The situation is more even dramatic within the Opposition. Writing on June 13, 2013, political and social commentator, Dr Anne Summers, noted, 'If Tony Abbott is elected prime minister on September 14 the number of women at the Cabinet table will drop by 50 per cent...
All up, women are just 19 per cent of the Abbott team, whereas the Gillard government comprises 33 per cent women.
There are four women now in the Cabinet (Penny Wong, Jenny Macklin, Tanya Plibersek and Gillard herself). Abbott's will have just two: Julie Bishop and Sophie Mirabella.
The figures for the rest of Abbott's leadership are equally abysmal. Just four of his 12-strong shadow ministry are women, as are a mere three of his 15 parliamentary secretaries. By contrast, apart from 20 per cent of Gillard's cabinet being female, an impressive 60 per cent of the 10 outer ministers are women, as are 33 per cent of the 12 parliamentary secretaries.'
It has also been noted that the under-representation of women in positions of political leadership gives them few models from which to develop their leadership style.
Dr Madeleine Gray of the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne has stated, 'Political leadership in Australia has historically been male dominated in structure, culture and style. Women's underrepresentation in the political legislatures has meant they have struggled to find a leadership style that is neither 'maternal' nor 'quasi-male'.
3. When female parliamentarians do occupy leadership positions this tends to be in a stop-gap capacity
It has been noted that many women who have taken over the leadership of their parties have done so when electoral defeat is anticipated and thus are often short-term leaders. The further claim has been made that such female leaders are sacrifices to the political ambitions of their male colleagues, taking over the leadership at a time when defeat was immanent and thus when the political career of the leader was likely to be either damaged or destroyed.
In an opinion piece published in The Australian on February 18, 2013, Cassandra Wilkinson stated, 'Labor used to draft women to take the wheel just as the cliff came into view. Carmen Lawrence, Joan Kirner and Kristina Keneally were all called on to sacrifice their substantial talents and bright futures to lost-cause governments.'
On March 24, 2012, Zoe Arnold had similarly written on Mamamia, 'Why do women in state politics only seem to get the top job in a government's dying days?
Every state except South Australia has now had a woman as Premier or Chief Minister; all of them have got the gig before facing expected electoral annihilation.'
Referring to then Queensland Prime Minister Anna Bligh, Arnold wrote, 'She joins Carmen Lawrence, Joan Kirner and Kristina Keneally in the political graveyard of women who were picked as an interim measure in the face of electoral defeat.'
Arnold then argues, '[I]t's high time both sides of politics stopped using women as sacrificial lambs.'
4. Female parliamentarians are subjected to sexist and other forms of abuse
It has been claimed that female politicians suffer a disproportionate amount of sexist and personal abuse. In a 2007 background briefing for the New South Wales Parliament titled 'Women, Parliament and the Media' it was noted 'some commentators are concerned that media coverage of women politicians still differs to that of male politicians. Various reports demonstrate that there has not been a total shift from the traditional focus on their appearance and style, as well as details of their personal lives - marital status, childcare arrangements...'
Throughout Julia Gillard's prime ministership, concern was expressed that she attracted negative comments in the media, from the opposition, within the electorate and even from some within her own party that were more personal and sustained than those typically directed at male political leaders. Some commentators argued that the unusual degree of hostility displayed was an indication of the electorate's and the political establishment's inability to accept a woman as a political leader.
Such intensely personal abuse was demonstrated by radio commentator Alan Jones on September 23, 2012, when addressing a group of Young Liberals at Sydney University. Jones referred to Julia Gillard's recently deceased father as 'the old man' and claimed that he had 'died a few weeks ago of shame' because of his daughter's dishonesty. As a further instance, in June, 2013, Gillard was interviewed by West Australian radio host, Howard Sattler, and asked if her partner, Tim Matheson, were homosexual. Comments such as these have been condemned as deeply disrespectful of the office of prime minister and as personally offensive and/or hurtful.
It has further been noted that much of the criticism directed at Julia Gillard was explicitly sexist, that is, it used gender as a form of abuse. This point was made by social commentator, Anne Summers, in a speech given in August, 2012. Dr Summers noted 'There are countless examples ... where the prime minister is attacked, vilified or demeaned in ways that do specifically relate to her sex.' Summers then went on to catalogue a variety of such abuse, including Bill Heffernan's 2007 criticism of Gillard as 'deliberately ... barren' and Tony Abbott's 2011 remark that through an election on the carbon tax she could 'make an honest woman of herself'. Summers also referred to cartoonist Larry Pickering's widely circulated images of a naked Prime Minister Gillard either wearing or carrying a dildo.
Other examples were highlighted by Prime Minister Gillard herself in her October, 2012, misogyny speech in which she referred to Tony Abbott positioning himself in front of posters which read 'Ditch the witch' and referred to her as 'Juliar - Bob Brown's bitch'.
Toward the end of Julia Gillard's prime ministership, a mock menu was produced for a Liberal fund-raising dinner which referred to Julia Gillard's 'small breasts, huge thighs and big red box.' Anne Summers' speech of August, 2012, indicated that such descriptions of the prime minister had been circulating on the Internet for over a year. There has been a proliferation of abusive and generally sexist attacks against Julia Gillard on the web. These include Facebook pages, blogs and memes, one of which invites readers to caption a photograph of Julia Gillard. The 'big red box' abuse appeared on this meme before surfacing on the mock menu.
Many commentators have noted the misogyny inherent in such attacks. Political philosopher and former Labor speechwriter, Tim Soutphommasane, has stated, 'We have been reminded...of the breathtaking sexist hostility that exists towards Gillard. It is hard to conceive of a male PM ever being subjected to something like it. Can you imagine demeaning menus featuring frankfurters or chorizos named after them? Or radio hosts questioning them about their spouse's sexuality?'
5. Australian parliaments do not adequately address the concerns of women
It has been claimed that one of the reasons why Australian parliaments need greater female representation is that this will help to ensure that governments adopt policies and enact laws that address the particular needs of women.
Feminist critics of the Australian political process argue that the particular needs of women are not adequately addressed.
An example of this claimed neglect of women's issues is the state of paid maternity leave. Maternity leave, other than for government employees, was introduced into Australia in 2011. Critics have argued that the scheme was adopted late relative to other comparable cultures and economies and that the 18 weeks allowed should be extended.
In January 2013 it was reported that The Human Rights Commission was demanding the Federal Government extend the paid maternity leave scheme by eight weeks to bring it in line with international standards of 26 weeks.
Australian Breastfeeding Association spokeswoman, Meredith Laverty, has claimed that the below-standard parental leave scheme was forcing mothers back to work early when they should be spending bonding time with their babies.
Ms Laverty has stated, 'Mothers should have access to a minimum of six months paid maternity leave regardless of their employment status and income.'
In addition Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, has stated that more needed to be done to compensate unpaid carers. Ms Broderick has stated, 'Women undertake the largest share of unpaid caring work.'
It has also been claimed that even the current government, under the leadership of a woman, has introduced policy changes that disadvantage women. Key among these is the decision to remove sole supporting parents, with children over eight, from the supporting parent allowance and place them onto the unemployment benefit, Newstart, which significantly reduces the payment they receive.
A cross-party parliamentary committee found that the changes could breach single parents' human right to social security. Given that most single parents are women, critics have claimed that the government's action directly acts against women and their dependent children.