Yesterday it was revealed that Tony Abbott has appointed himself Minister for Women's Policies and Programs. On the face of it, he is possibly the person least suited for such a role in his ministry. Twitter duly exploded and there have been many articles, decrying this appointment.
However, if you think about it from Abbott's point of view, it is actually a
very clever move. Simply put, his appalling record on women's issues is his
single greatest political vulnerability, and the potential threat comes not
only from the opposition, but also from within his own party. An opposition
campaign targeting his
perceived misogyny could make him a
political liability to the Coalition.
By taking this role upon himself, he is signalling his intent to neutralize such a threat. It also makes it clear that he has no actual interest in women's issues - if he did he would appoint a more credible MP to the role. No, this play is purely about defending Tony Abbott's position as Prime Minister.
That being said, it won't be sufficient to merely talk the talk. He's going to have be successful in this role. Hence, his appointment of Michaelia Cash as "minister assisting the prime minister for women." Clearly the plan is for Cash to do the actual work of crafting credible policies, while Abbott takes all the credit.
I think he stands a good chance of achieving his goals in this, and this will remove what might otherwise have been one of the most effective ways of recovering a big chunk of the losses from this year's election.
I think the best way for the incoming leader of the opposition to approach this would be to publicly endorse Abbott as Minister for Women. Congratulate him on recognising that women's rights are so important that they deserve the no less than Prime Ministerial attention.
Point out how such policies are closely aligned with Labor's core egalitarian values. Make it a stated goal of Labor's term in opposition to work with the Government in advancing the cause of women. And appoint your most senior female MP as Shadow Minister for Women.
How this will play out over the next few years is hard to say. It's likely
that most of Abbott's policies related to women will be socially
conservative regressive, or tokenistic. In such cases, point
out the flaws and fight the legislation tooth and nail. If he does come up
with genuinely progressive policies, then give them enthusiastic bipartisan
In other words, make it hard for him to repair his reputation on the one hand by exposing hypocrisy and tokenism where it exists, and on the other by making any genuine progress seem like less of a personal achievement.
Rain on his parade and steal his thunder.
Note that most of the above also applies to his role as Minister for Indigenous Affairs.