I worked with Tony Abbott. He doesn’t care about gender
In the days following Tony Abbott’s election as Leader of the Opposition he received a barrage of calls from ex-staffers all desperate to work for him again. Most were women.
There were two reasons for this. He has a solid record of employing women in prominent positions, and his leadership style is based on respect and equality.
Far from finding it difficult to take advice from women in powerful positions – Tony Abbott puts women into powerful positions. I doubt there is another senior politician who could match his record of senior staff appointments for women.
In his 18 year political career, Abbott has only ever appointed females to the senior advisory positions of chief of staff, office manager and media adviser (up until recently). His sole office manager has been with him for the past 14 years and his former chief of staff was in the role for 11 years.
Abbott takes daily advice from powerful women: his wife, his chief of staff, his office manager and let’s not forget his partnership with Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Julie Bishop.
But I don’t want to give you the wrong impression. He is not pro-women. He is pro-equality and pro-merit. People are appointed based on ability, not gender. The chief of staff to a Cabinet Minister and the chief of staff to the Leader of the Opposition are incredibly powerful positions. Abbott has entrusted these roles to women based on merit.
I worked as Tony Abbott’s media adviser during his time as Health Minister (2003-2007 with some maternity leave). I accompanied him across the country to countless meetings and through two election campaigns. He negotiated tirelessly with medical professionals and worked to solve critical problems with the health system.
He had close working relationships with many health professionals, including leaders such as Sue Page, the then president of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, who praised him early in his ministership for his ability to negotiate resolutions to complex issues such as the medical indemnity crisis. He also appointed scores of senior female doctors, pharmacists, academics and medical researchers to national health committees in advisory roles.
Never did I witness Tony Abbott treat or respond differently to women or men. But I did frequently witness the female Secretary of the Health Department give him frank and fearless advice.
In the first three years of Tony Abbott’s term as health minister, Julia Gillard was the Shadow Health Minister (2003-06). They were often invited to the same health stakeholder functions where Abbott was usually the guest of honour. He would always publicly acknowledge Julia Gillard and often invite her to say a few words. I’m not sure this decorum has been reciprocated during his time in opposition!
Such claims of problems working with women have only been made by political rivals looking to create a distraction for a focused opponent.
If Tony Abbott was the CEO of a company rather than a Liberal politician, would Tanya Plibersek - a former Minister for the Status of Women - be championing him as a leader who has helped women to break through the glass ceiling? Would she refer to him as someone who has used his own career to empower women?
The reality is the insults are politically motivated. Nonetheless, it is a shame that a powerful woman whose role was to promote women is now publicly denouncing someone who has helped many women to achieve extraordinary careers.
Kate Miranda is a former media adviser to Tony Abbott.
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