Comment: The short-lived feminism of Tony Abbott

By Rob Brooks, University of New South Wales

Having watched Christopher Pyne’s sexist treatment of Kate Ellis on Q&A on Monday (see Ben Pobjie’s excellent analysis), I couldn’t decide whether to watch Abbott or Pyne as the Prime Minister handed them their medicine.


This wasn’t quite Cicero denouncing Catiline in the senate. Not least because of the pathetic sordidness of the Peter Slipper affair. And commentators who followed the full day’s incendiary proceedings have a less glowing assessment of the speech’s impact than those of us who saw only the speech itself.

But what excited me, and no doubt animated the video’s viral spread, is the way in which the Prime Minister stood up to Tony Abbott’s aggressive, bullying political style.

Much has been made of Abbott’s so-called “problem with women”. I have no knowledge of how he personally relates to women. But with the way in which he has conducted himself as opposition leader, he has earned the public perception that he has a problem with women, especially women in authority.

He wields his robust aggression so effectively in trying to dislodge and disrupt the government. But now that it is harming his standing with voters, he’s suddenly attempted to remake himself as a feminist. Last week Abbott’s wife, Margie, stepped up to rebut the idea he’s on “some kind of anti-women crusade”. She even went so far as to call him a feminist.

Yesterday, when he got the chance he has been begging for, to move that Peter Slipper be removed as speaker, he made his case on the basis of Slipper’s gross sexism. Suddenly, when the polls start telling him that his perceived sexism is costing him votes, Abbott reveals that he’s a feminist. The last time I was so surprised at a coming-out was when the Insane Clown Posse announced they were actually evangelical Christians.

Abbott’s is the kind of clumsy “re-branding” that only a PR zombie who has never actually met a real voter could have dreamed up. Nobody builds feminist cred overnight. Having a wife and three daughters doesn’t confer it. Especially when Abbott admits to having told his daughters that their virginity is “the most precious gift” they could give someone.

Perhaps, as some regular readers of this column like to point out, I read too much sex, gender and reproduction into modern affairs. Perhaps I should stick to thinking about sexual conflict in other animals.

But then I look at politicians like Tony Abbott and Cory Bernardi here in Australia, and Todd Akin and Paul Ryan in the USA, and I cannot help but see the narrow reproductive self-interest that permeates so much of their politics.

If you talk and behave like a man who has never given a moment’s thought to what it is like to live as a woman, then the best you can hope for is to represent other men who have given just as little thought to what life is like for their daughters and wives (should they be so lucky).

And if you speak and think like someone who has never considered what it is like to be gay, then don’t act surprised when gay people actively oppose your re-election.

And if, like Alan Jones, you make your considerable living giving a life-like rendition of a bully who exploits their listener’s self-interest, then don’t whinge about cyber-bullying when the public push back at you.

I grow ever more convinced – although I don’t have the evidence for this yet – that women and men each inherit a kind of gendered myopia that makes it difficult to empathise completely with members of the opposite sex. Which makes it genuinely difficult for us to truly understand one another. Abbott, Jones and the like have built their careers catering to men who’ve spent their lives not thinking deeply about the lives their daughters and wives lead, or would like to lead.

If Tony Abbott wants to undo his damaged reputation with women, he needs to start in the right place. Simply calling yourself a feminist will only lead to more trouble.

Which is one of the reasons I so enjoyed the Prime Minister’s speech. She called Abbott on his rank hypocrisy in trying to paint himself as a feminist when it suddenly became expedient to do so. And, as Anthony Sharwood put it at The Punch – Tony Abbott “got owned”.

Rob Brooks does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Stingers reach world water polo final

Australia’s women’s water polo team has earned a shot at a first world title since 1986 after beating Russia to reach the final in Barcelona.


The Stingers won 9-6 on Wednesday to set up a showdown with hosts Spain in Friday’s decider.

Australia, bronze medallists at the London Olympics, reached only their third world championships final and first since 2007.

They will attempt to add a second crown after winning the inaugural world championships in Madrid 17 years ago.

Despite a slow start, the Stingers assumed control in the second term to lead 4-3 at halftime and never looked back as they thwarted Russia’s counter-attack.

Nicola Zagame scored three goals in the win, which evoked memories of Australia’s 2007 semi-final triumph over Russia in Melbourne en-route to a silver medal finish behind the US.

Proud Australian coach Greg McFadden was excited by the challenge of facing Spain in the final.

“We are in the gold medal match now and it’s been a great journey and it would be awesome to beat Spain in front of their home crowd as it will be a tremendous atmosphere,” McFadden said.

Stingers star Ashleigh Southern said Wednesday’s win helped overcome the disappointment of missing last year’s Olympic final after an extra-time semi-final loss to eventual champions the US.

“It’s an amazing feeling being in the final. We really wanted to come out here and play for the world championship,” she said.

Olympic silver medallists Spain won a see-sawing encounter against Hungary 13-12, with the winning two goals coming from Laura Lopez in the final quarter.

The hosts had already achieved their best world championships result, having never finished higher than seventh.

Australia’s men’s team lost in the quarter-finals, falling in a heartbreaking extra-time defeat to Olympic champions Croatia on Tuesday.

The politics of ‘orphans’ and the dirty tactics of the adoption lobby

By Patricia Fronek, Griffith University

You might not have realised it, but it is Adoption Awareness Week.


Every year at this time lobbyists pull out the big gun – the celebrity card – and Deborra-Lee Furness hits the airwaves.

The messages are clear – we must rescue more orphans, cut red tape, privatise adoption like in the US, and anyone who opposes us, especially the government, is anti-adoption. The reality is the informed members of the adoption community (and there are many) understand intercountry adoption for what it is – a very complex matter.

Everyone has a right to an opinion but when a small, well-connected and media-savvy group of lobbyists claim personal opinion as fact and claim to be the voice for the adoption community in Australia, there is a problem. My PhD research shed light on the tactics used by lobbyists in Australia – keep the message simple and emotional.

“There are millions of orphans in the world that need to be saved” fits that bill. It sounds a lot better than “a single mother is encouraged by an adoption agency to send her child overseas for adoption and then when she changes her mind and returns the next day, she is told it is too late” or “the family who does not understand what intercountry adoption really means and thinks their child is leaving to go to school” or “some children adopted into Australia have been trafficked”.

In many countries as many as 4 out of 5 children living in orphanages have living parents. US Navy

The other tactic, first used in the US, is to create an enemy; that way there is someone to fight and it keeps the emotions all churned up. This is where the “anti-adoption culture” tag comes in handy. “Anti-adoption” was readily taken on board by the politicians involved in the 2005 Inquiry into Overseas Adoption, while other voices were shut down.

The trouble is the more we hear opinion spoken as fact and don’t hear about the research on intercountry adoption, the more dangerous it becomes.

Where is the evidence? Why don’t we ever hear about the research from overseas that tells us what is really happening in sending countries of children and the voices of those affected – those who lose their children much like the Australian mothers to whom we are now apologising. Why don’t we hear about the research happening in this country? Adopted children are other people’s children. Even after children have been adopted they will always have two families even if they don’t know who their mothers, fathers and first families are. Maybe, just maybe, there are more options than the two we are presented with: life in an orphanage or adoption. Do we lobby governments to improve the conditions of families where adoption occurs? It would cost a lot less.

At this point, I feel I have to say I am not “anti-adoption”. I have spent many years assessing prospective parents here in Australia and can honestly say our adoptive families are good parents and do their best for the children they adopt and love them as their own. Adoption does have a place, but when we focus only on Australia we only see the parents who want to adopt a child. We do not see what happens overseas and we believe the hype. It is the pressure we put on overseas countries to allow intercountry adoption that create opportunities for bad practice and at worst, trafficking.

So what does the research say? Most adopted children are not orphans – they have families. The stories of many mothers are so similar to those of Australian mothers several decades ago, you wouldn’t know the difference by reading them. Orphanages are often created to feed the adoption industry – conflicts of interest abound. Children are often placed into orphanages temporarily during hard times for families, much as they once were in Australia if dad was widowed and had to go to work. Reports of parents coming to get their children (sometimes after saving up to pay the fine) only to find them adopted overseas are many. Of course every country is different and there are different circumstances affecting families, but sadly the threads are all too common.

Unfortunately, intercountry adoption research does not dig up simple messages, does not appeal to the emotions as children in need of rescue do. In fact, there is a lot of grey.

Opinion is much more exciting than evidence. For a long time, adoption scholars here and overseas have talked about what could be done for families and children in trouble overseas. The issue doesn’t start with a child in an adoption agency – the problems start before that.

It is about inequality and disadvantage – let’s build a school, let’s educate women, let’s work towards a basic system of support for widows, let’s trace the children’s families. These steps should come first.

According the The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, adopting children from foreign countries is a last resort. Yet all our resources are poured into responding to the claims of lobbyists. While we do this, we are failing to provide adequate post-adoption services for the children and adults we have adopted. If we’re going to have a discussion of adoption this week, let’s get the facts right.

Patricia Fronek is a member of the National InterCountry Adoption Advisory Group (NICAAG) for the Australian Attorney-General’s Department

Aust MotoGP organisers chase Casey Stoner

Australian MotoGP organisers are pursuing retired two-wheel ace Casey Stoner in the hope he’ll return to Phillip Island for this year’s event.


The 27-year-old quit the sport last November but will jump back on a bike this week for a two-day test in Japan with his former MotoGP team Honda.

He is slated for another two sessions in August to ride a prototype of Honda’s 2014 model.

Stoner admitted he missed the thrill of competing on two wheels in announcing the brief comeback, having struggled to stamp his mark on four in the V8 Supercars’ second-tier category.

The move fuelled speculation the two-time MotoGP world champion could make a dramatic comeback to the sport – a prospect that has the Australian Grand Prix Corporation excited.

“Honda had three bikes in their garage last year with (Andrea) Dovizioso – this year Casey might be that third rider,” chief executive Andrew Westacott told AAP.

“I’d love him to be there (at Phillip Island) and if he can make it down, we’d throw out the welcome mat.

“Now that he’s back on the bike from a Honda point of view, we’ll always look to have him down there – in the same way we’ve always extended the invitation to any of our previous legends.

“We’ll have some conversations over the next three months now that there’s a little bit more of a plan when it comes to Honda’s involvement.”

The October 18-20 event has been billed as the `New Era’, with the absence of Stoner – who has won the past six races – opening the door for a new victor for the first time since 2006.

But Westacott conceded it had been harder to promote this year’s event and match the hype around Stoner’s final race at home in 2012.

“Nothing can compare with last year. It was just one of those unbelievable Australian sporting moments,” he said.

“The one-off interest last year was great for the ongoing awareness of the event and ticket sales but it is a little bit more difficult (in 2013) because what we’ve got to do is promote how open the season is rather than having a hero.”

Regardless, Westacott said ticket sales had so far been on par with events held in 2011 and 2010.

“It’s realistic that we’ve got sales more aligned to the 90-100,000 people who come along to MotoGP across three days rather than around 125,000 who came because they wanted to see an end of a sporting icon’s career,” he said.

“In every sport we go through eras – whether it be motorsport, tennis, golf … and now we’re moving onto a new one (in MotoGP).”

Who should pay for flood damage?

Flooding in Australia’s eastern states has seen more than 24,000 insurance claims lodged so far, with estimates that total costs will run higher than $200 million.


Queensland is bearing the brunt of the clean-up bill, with costs in excess of $187 million.

Obvious comparisons have been made to the 2010/11 Brisbane floods, however those costs exceeded $2.4 billion.

The resounding similarity is the criticism leveled at insurance companies over adequately and accurately covering their clients while offering market-driven premiums, amid rising costs linked to flood coverage.

A new survey from consumer advocate Choice has reported that 60 per cent of people have seen an increase in insurance premiums almost always connected to flood costs.

“Consumers are seeing their premiums double, triple and in some instances increase five-fold with often inappropriate justification from the major insurers as to why,” CEO of Choice, Alan Kirkland said.

“One minute major insurers have been telling consumers the price rises are necessary due to the large payouts from the 2011 floods, while the next they are saying the rises are because a property has been specifically checked out and identified as being in a high-risk flood zone.”

He said that consumers being priced out of the market is a major reason for under-coverage.

“Our major concern is that some consumers are forgoing household insurance altogether because they simply cannot afford the new premiums.”

CHOICE’s research shows that major insurers are also using inconsistent techniques to assess flood risk, including Google Maps and “secret” assessments that they will not reveal to homeowners, local government or the National Flood Risk Information Portal.

The explosion in premium prices also saw a 35 per cent increase in general insurance disputes lodged with the Financial Ombudsmen Service in 2011-2012.

Some insurance companies were state-owned, like the precursor of SunCorp, were privatised in the 80s.

Justin Malbon from the Monash University faculty of Law says that it’s a public policy question over whether homeowners should be subject to insurance industry market forces or a return to tax-funded government disaster coverage.

He also said that revisions to the Insurance Contracts Act since the 2010/11 floods have gone some way to properly define “flood damage” and “storm damage”.

“The terminology in a lot of policies was very unclear in their definition of what a flood was, it was extremely confusing, and for consumers it was hard for them to know and to some extent insurance companies were relying on the confusion to get out of paying up.”

Insurance Council of Australia CEO Rob Whelan said earlier this week that some of the recent flood damage could have been avoided if the state and local governments had done more.

“$40 million is good but it needs way more than that,” he told ABC’s Lateline program on Tuesday.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman doesn’t have a problem with a debate about what more could be done for flood mitigation, but questioned the appropriateness of the timing of Mr Whelan’s comments.

He said a statewide flood mitigation program is underway, where local government chips in $20m and the state $40m.

“We’re getting on with it. Would we like to put more money in? Yes.”

Investors were not spooked at the underwriting responsibilities of the major insurance companies, with Insurance Group Australia (IAG) jumping six cents to $4.99 and QBE Insurance climbing 47 cents today.

Although the Brisbane-based Suncorp, owner of AAMI and GIO and set to be the worst affected of the major insurance companies, has already fielded about 4000 claims for flood and storm damage and their share price dropping a few cents in response.