Abbott - woman trouble, or trouble with a woman…
There’s a story about Tony Abbott excitedly returning home from parliament and informing his wife Margie that John Howard had given him the important tactical position of Leader of the House.
He was promptly told, and I’m paraphrasing, well you’re not the leader of this house honey, take the garbage out. For someone with a problem with strong women, the Opposition Leader has spent his whole life surrounded by them.
A growing list of Government MPs have today joined a chorus of complaint about Abbott’s dealings with the acting Speaker of the House of Representatives Anna Burke. Burke threw Abbott out of Question Time yesterday, after Abbott just couldn’t bring himself to obey her order to withdraw a sledge “unreservedly.”
He deserved to be thrown out. His actions were petulant and disrespectful.
Attorney-General Nicola Roxon has just given a press conference where she said: “He’s obviously uncomfortable with capable women.”
She cited his pattern of rudeness when as shadow health minister in years past she attended the same functions as her then-counterpart.
“Whether that’s because I’m a woman or whether that’s because I win arguments with him, I think is a matter for others to make their summation.”
It’s a very similar charge to that which was made by a group of the most senior Labor women against Kevin Rudd during the bitter leadership battle earlier this year.
Then women including Roxon, Penny Wong and Kate Ellis went on the record with their concerns about Rudd’s behaviour.
There’s no denying Abbott’s relationship with Burke, while she’s been in the Speaker’s chair since Peter Slipper was stood down, has been incredibly tense.
Close observers say Abbott has been particularly dismissive of the deputy, who is in a difficult position steering parliament while questions hang over Slipper.
It’s clear he doesn’t respect her. Whether this is because he’s “uncomfortable with capable women” is open to debate.
The Punch just got off the phone with a very capable woman, Simone Holzapfel, who was once Abbott’s press secretary in Government. She pointed out that her former boss has never had a male chief-of-staff, and until he was opposition leader had never had a male press secretary.
Holzapfel, who now runs her own business but still speaks to the Opposition Leader regularly, said his shifting views have come about because of his interaction with the strong women in his office and his family.
“A lot of his views have been shaped by the strong women in his life and the perfect example is his maternity leave policy.”
I know two of Holzapfel’s successors, also both very capable women who appeared, at the time they worked for him, to often be calling the shots.
It’s unlikely anyone, from any side of the fence, could argue that Abbott’s current chief-of-staff Peta Credlin is not a capable woman and whole rainforests have been sacrificed to produce the magazine and weekend newspaper features about how she rules his office with an iron fist.
If Abbott has a problem with strong competent women, he must be a masochist.
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